Gender Differences in Heart Health

While heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women, it doesn't affect them in the same way. Find out the gender differences in heart disease development, diagnosis, symptoms and treatment.

Heart disease research is now being conducted on women, not just men, and the results indicate that there a number of very important differences between the genders.

Development, Risk Factors

• Women tend to develop plaque in the smaller arteries near the heart (microvascular disease) whereas men are much more likely to develop plaque in the major arteries.
• Chronic stress doubles the risk of heart disease, and women experience greater levels of acute and chronic stress than men, as well as more stress-related mental illness.
• For both men and women, one drink a day can lower the risk of heart disease. But for women, drinking more than that (2-4 drinks) increases the risk by 45%, while for men drinking that amount still decreased the risk.
• Low levels of HDL cholesterol seem to be a stronger risk factor for women than for men.


• An angiogram won't pick up the plaque in the smaller arteries; an MRI or stress test are better at detecting this problem.
• Cardiac stress tests are accurate for men, but not as much for women; misleading treadmill results occurred in 35 percent of the women studied.
• Stress tests induced by drugs rather than exercise may actually be preferable in women. Either stress test when combined with echocardiography is more accurate for diagnosing heart disease in women.

Heart Attack Symptoms

• Men are more likely to experience the classic stabbing/crushing chest pain or pressure, tingling/pain in left arm and shortness of breath, but can also have atypical symptoms.
• Women are more likely to have "atypical" symptoms such as nausea, weakness, lethargy, upper back/neck/jaw pain, clamminess, dizziness and shortness of breath, but can also experience the classic symptoms. They also often start to have symptoms days or weeks in advance.
• Women with heart attacks are more likely to die than men.

Treatment & Prevention

• Statins do not have a preventive benefit for women as they may for men; the risk of heart attack or death appears to be lowered only in women who already have heart disease. Women are also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes while on statins than are men.
• Research from Harvard University shows that unlike with men, aspirin does not prevent a first heart attack or death in healthy women under 65. (Some women under 65 may still benefit from aspirin therapy, such as those with risk factors for heart disease or stroke.)
• Women are less likely to get clot-busting medication than men (partially because they are not treated as quickly for heart attacks as men, and the drugs are time-sensitive). And while women's survival does improve when they get the drug, it does not improve as men's.
• More women die after angioplasty and heart bypass surgery, and their complication rates are higher than for men. This may be due in part to the fact that women's heart disease is often at a more advanced stage when surgery is performed.

Even with the many differences, both men and women can take lifestyle steps to greatly reduce their risk for heart disease and heart attacks (see Reduce Your Heart Attack Risk). For additional nutritional support to keep your cardiovascular system and cholesterol levels healthy try, Cardiovascular Support and Red Yeast Rice Plus Co Q-10

Dr. Reginald B. Cherry ( is a member of the American Medical Association, Texas Medical Association, Harris County Medical Society, and the American College of Preventive Medicine. Dr. Cherry has authored numerous articles on Preventive Medicine, emphasizing nutrition and exercise. He also speaks extensively on these topics nationwide and conducts numerous seminars for various groups and organizations. Currently, his weekly television program reaches 80 million homes.