10 things to know about women's heart health

Top 10 things to know about women’s heart health

By Dr. Gretchen Wells, director of the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute’s Women’s Heart Health Program.

Dr. Gretchen Wells

Dr. Gretchen Wells

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, but it often goes unnoticed until it’s too late. Part of that comes from the fact that women’s hearts are different from men’s in certain ways, which can affect the way women develop heart disease and experience heart attack symptoms.

People assume all heart attacks feel like a crushing in the chest, but often, and for women in particular, the symptoms of a heart attack can be quite different. That’s why it’s so important to teach women what to look for and how to take the best care of their hearts.

Check out my top 10 list of things women should know about their hearts, and be sure to listen to an interview I did recently about heart health below!

1. Know your symptoms

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
  • As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
  • If you’re having symptoms, call 911!

2. Quit smoking. Just do it. You know you should. UK HealthCare has resources to help you quit. Check them out.

3. “Waist it.” Watch what you eat! Women have an increased risk of heart attack if their waist circumference is big.

4. Move it! The Nurses’ Health Study demonstrated that women who exercise (brisk walking) 30 minutes five out of seven days a week reduce their risk of a heart attack by 50 percent.

5. Know your numbers! Know your blood glucose (sugar), cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. If these are abnormal, talk to your healthcare provider about ways to improve them.

6. Don’t be sweet! If you’re diabetic, get treatment. This is a far greater risk factor in women than in men.

7. And while we’re at it – treat your blood pressure, too.

8. Talk to your doctor about whether or not you should be taking an aspirin (or any other medications for that matter). Women over the age of 65 should take a daily aspirin for prevention. The recommendations vary in other groups.

9. Don’t worry, be happy! The type-A personality has been strongly associated with heart attacks in men, and we’re learning more about optimism and positivity in women.

10. Call your mother (that’s my mother’s suggestion). Find out from her about your family history. Heart disease runs in families. Find out exactly what type of heart disease your family has and discuss it with your doctor.


Dr. Wells was recently interviewed on Behind the Blue, the University of Kentucky’s podcast. She was joined by Gail Cohen, a patient who experienced firsthand the dangers of undetected heart disease. Listen below to hear Gail’s story as well as tips from Dr. Wells about how you can improve your heart health.


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