4 Factors that Increase Heart Attack Risk for Women

By Jessica L Waddell MSN, FNP
Nurse Practitioner

Despite messages about heart-healthy lifestyles, one in four women will die of heart disease this year. Sadly, the majority of women who die from sudden heart attacks will have no previous symptoms.

These women could be your mom, sister, aunt, best friend – you. That’s why it’s so important for women to understand their risk factors.

Heart Attack Risk Factors for Women

Many heart attack risks and heart conditions are the same for men and women. Others, however, make women more vulnerable to heart attacks or the development of cardiovascular disease.

  • Gestational diabetes and hypertension
    Women who experience gestational diabetes or pregnancy-induced hypertension (high blood pressure) are at greater risk for developing long-term complications of heart disease later in life. This occurs because the same women are at a much higher risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure as they age. Both conditions are strong risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
  • Autoimmune Diseases
    Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, are also significant risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Systemic inflammatory conditions affect tissues and organ systems, including the cardiovascular system. Women are affected more than men with inflammatory immune diseases. Because of autoimmune diseases, they also face other risk factors associated cardiovascular disease, such as diabetes and lipid disorders.
  • Hormonal Changes
    Menopause changes the production of estrogen, which is a protective factor against heart disease. It plays an important role in lipid metabolism by reducing LDL (bad cholesterol) and increasing HDL (good cholesterol). By the time a woman reaches 65, her risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) is just as high as a man’s because of these hormonal changes.
  • Breast Cancer
    Some breast cancer treatments put women at an increased risk for heart disease. Certain agents used to treat breast cancer and radiation therapy, particularly to the left chest, can make some women more susceptible to cardiovascular disease.

The healthier we are before complications occur, the overall better our outcomes tend to be. We cannot predict when someone will have a heart attack, however, what we do know is the better we can take care of ourselves today, the better off we will be later on down the road.

Ms. Waddell earned her master of science in nursing degree from George Washington University. As a nurse practitioner, she uses her training and skills to provide high-quality managed care for acutely and critically ill cardiac patients. She is trained to conduct numerous medical procedures and provide a wide range of diagnostic and management services for patients with heart conditions including angina, arrhythmias, heart attack, heart disease, heart failure and hypertension. Her dedication to nursing care and emotional support help to create a more calming environment for patients and their families.