Lower Your Risk for the Number 1 Killer of Women

Learn about heart disease and women and what you can do to keep a healthy heart.

The term heart disease refers to several types of heart conditions, including coronary artery disease and heart attack.

Get Informed: Facts on Women and Heart Disease

Despite an increase in awareness over the past decades, only about half (56%) of women recognize that heart disease is their number 1 killer.1

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, killing 301,280 women in 2019—or about 1 in every 5 female deaths.2 Among American Indian and Alaska Native women, heart disease and cancer cause roughly the same number of deaths each year. For Hispanic or Latina and Asian or Pacific Islander women, heart disease is second only to cancer as a cause of death.3

  • About 1 in 16 women age 20 and older (6.2%) have coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease.4
hand holding a heart shaped image

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States.

Although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a man’s disease, almost as many women as men die each year of heart disease in the United States.

Symptoms

Sometimes heart disease may be “silent” and not diagnosed until you have symptoms or emergencies, including5

  • Heart attack: Chest pain or discomfort, upper back or neck pain, indigestion, heartburn, nausea or vomiting, extreme fatigue, upper body discomfort, dizziness, and shortness of breath
  • Arrhythmiaexternal icon external icon: Fluttering feelings in the chest (palpitations)
  • Heart failure: Shortness of breath, fatigue, or swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, abdomen, or neck veins
What You Can Do for Heart Health

To lower your chances of getting heart disease, it’s important to do the following:6

  • Manage stress levels by finding healthy ways to cope with stress. Learn more about coping with stress.
  • Know your blood pressure. Having uncontrolled blood pressure can lead to heart disease. High blood pressure has no symptoms, so it’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly. Learn more about high blood pressure. Additionally, high blood pressure may increase the risk of problems during pregnancy.
  • Talk to your doctor or health care team about whether you should be tested for diabetes. Having uncontrolled diabetes raises your risk of heart disease.7 Learn more about diabetes, including gestational diabetes.
  • Quit smoking. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, learn ways to quit.
  • Be physically active.  Adults should strive for at least 2 hours and 30 minutes (or 150 minutes total) of physical activity each week. Not getting enough physical activity can lead to heart disease and other heart disease risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.
  • Choose healthy foodsexternal icon and drinks to help prevent heart disease and its complications. Be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and eat fewer processed foods Learn more about overweight and obesity. Learn more about overweight and obesity.
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink to one drink a day. Learn more about alcohol.
medical professional checking patient's blood pressure

Talk to your doctor about your blood pressure and how a high blood pressure can increase the risk for heart disease.

two women wearing face coverings walking outside

Staying physically active is great way to reduce your risk for heart disease.

A collaboration by CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention and Office of Women’s Health.

Citations:
  1. Mosca L, Hammond G, Mochari-Greenberger H, Towfighi A, Albert MA, American Heart Association Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke in Women and Special Populations Committee of the Council on Clinical Cardiology, Council on Epidemiology and Prevention, Council on Cardiovascular Nursing, Council on High Blood Pressure Research, and Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism. Fifteen-year trends in awareness of heart disease in women: Results of a 2012 American Heart Association national survey external iconexternal iconCirculation. 2013;127(11):1254–63, e1–29.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2019 on CDC Wonder Online Database, released in 2020. Data are from Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2019, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed Jan 7, 2021.
  3. Heron M. Deaths: Leading cause for 2017. pdf icon National Vital Statistics Reports. 2019;68(6).
  4. Benjamin EJ, Muntner P, Alonso A, Bittencourt MS, Callaway CW, Carson AP, et al. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2019 update: a report from the American Heart Association external iconexternal iconCirculation. 2019;139:e1–e473.
  5. NHLBI. Heart Disease in Women external iconexternal icon. Accessed October 2, 2018.
  6. HHS, OWH. Heart disease prevention external iconexternal icon. 2015. Accessed October 2, 2018.
  7. HHS, OWH. Diabetes external iconexternal icon. Accessed October 2, 2018.
Page last reviewed: February 8, 2021