More than 2.5 million women in the U.S. have heart failure 1 and it is the leading cause of hospitalizations in women over the age of 651. Heart failure is a complex condition resulting in the heart becoming less effective and unable to supply blood adequately to every part of the body. There are important sex differences in the causes, signs and symptoms of heart failure and it is important for women to be aware of them. These include:
- Women with heart failure tend to experience depression more frequently than men.2
- They also tend to experience more symptoms than men, such as shortness of breath, swelling around the ankles, and difficulty exercising.2
- The most common causes of heart failure in women are hypertension, valve disease, and diabetes, while the most common cause of heart failure in men is coronary heart disease.3
- Anthracycline drugs used for chemotherapy for breast cancer and for some other forms of cancer present a risk factor for the development of heart failure.2
- In rare cases women suffer heart failure in the month before giving birth or within a few months afterward. The condition can be reversed if treated promptly, but is likely to occur again with future pregnancies.1
- Women tend to develop heart failure at an older age than men.3
While heart failure is a serious medical condition, it is becoming easier to prevent and treat thanks to medical and scientific advances. If you have heart failure, there are steps you can take to manage your condition and improve your quality of life:
Reduce risk factors including smoking, being overweight or obese, physical inactivity, high cholesterol, and the over-consumption of alcohol, salt and trans-fats.
Adhere to your medication.
Weigh yourself daily: if you experience sudden weight gain, it may be due to fluid build-up related to your heart failure condition, and it demands immediate attention.
Monitor your symptoms carefully and do not hesitate to see your health care provider if you experience new or worsening symptoms.
Read about WomenHeart’s new national campaign to raise awareness about heart failure and women .
Learn about the newly founded International Heart Hub for Heart Failure Patients, of which WomenHeart is a Founding Member.
Her Heart Matters: What Women Need to Know About Heart Failure (2015)
1Harvard Women’s Health Watch newsletter, Harvard Health Publications, Harvard medical School, September 2008. Available online here.
2Cleveland Clinic Heart Failure in Women web page. Updated 2014. Available online here.
3HHsich, Eileen M. and Piña, Ileana L., ‘Heart Failure in Women,' Journal of the American College of Cardiology, August 2009. Available online here.