Heart conditions in women
Like men, women can be diagnosed with a range of heart conditions that include angina, heart attack, heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms.
Other heart conditions include inherited heart conditions or heart problems that are present at birth (congenital heart disease).
Common questions about heart disease in women:
Are there specific heart conditions that women are diagnosed with?
Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection, or SCAD, is an example of a condition that occurs more frequently in women.
It occurs when a split suddenly develops between the inner layers of a coronary artery. Blood flows into this space and reduces the amount of blood flowing through the artery. The symptoms are similar to those of a heart attack or angina. Most of the people who suffer from SCAD have few or no known risk factors.
Recognising the warning signs of a heart attack, and getting treatment as quickly as possible, is important for women of all ages.
What are common diagnostic tests and procedures for heart disease?
There are range of medical tests and procedures for heart and blood vessel disease.
Is there particular information women should be aware of?
It’s a common belief that women are better at looking after their health than men. But when it comes to heart health, research shows that many women don’t and often put the needs of others before themselves.
They are less likely to attend cardiac rehabilitation, less likely to take their medication regularly, and are less likely to make the lifestyle changes necessary for good health.
Family, friends and your doctor all have an important role to play in supporting women who are living with heart disease.
Complications during pregnancy like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes can increase your risk of heart disease later in life. If you experienced these, tell your healthcare professional so they can monitor your heart health.
What happens if I'm diagnosed with a heart condition?
Women of any age may be diagnosed with a heart condition.
What happens next can be dependent on the type of heart problem.
Many people who have been diagnosed with a heart condition go on to live long, full lives. However, it's important to make lifestyle changes to manage your heart health over the longer term.
If you have been discharged from hospital after a diagnosis or a procedure, the steps to recovery are likely to be:
- Regular check-ups with your doctor
- Referral to a cardiac rehabilitation program
- Taking medication
- Making changes to your parts of your lifestyle like diet and exercise.
When can I expect to return to an everyday life?
After a heart attack or heart surgery you may have questions about how soon you can drive again, return to work, do exercise or gardening, or start having sex.
It’s normal to feel anxious about this but you can live well with heart disease.
Is there any advice on heart health during pregnancy?
As general advice, pregnant women are encouraged to eat a healthy diet, participate in regular physical activity, quit smoking, maintain a healthy weight and not drink alcohol during their pregnancy.
Pregnancy is often referred to as the “ultimate stress test” for the body. A woman’s blood volume increases by 30-50% over the course of her pregnancy. Labour and delivery exact a further toll on the body producing abrupt changes in blood flow and pressure, forcing the heart to work harder.
If you experienced complications in pregnancy like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, or have a pre-existing heart condition, make sure you discuss this with your healthcare team when planning a first pregnancy or subsequent pregnancies.
What complications can arise during pregnancy?
Most women will have a perfectly normal pregnancy, but a small number will have some sort of complication that may increase their blood pressure or their blood sugar levels.
These complications can include:
• High blood pressure
• Gestational diabetes
If you have any of these complications you will also be closely monitored by your health team throughout your pregnancy.
If you experienced these types of complications during your pregnancy, let your doctor know so they can keep an eye on your heart.
What is pre-eclampsia?
Pre-eclampsia is a disorder that is unique to pregnancy.
It affects some pregnant women during the second half of pregnancy or immediately after delivery of their baby.
Women with pre-eclampsia have high blood pressure, fluid retention and protein in their urine.
Women diagnosed with pre-eclampsia are at increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease later in life compared to women who did not experience this condition.
It is recommended that women who have had pre-eclampsia during pregnancy have an annual blood pressure check and regular assessment of other heart disease risk factors.
If you experienced preeclampsia during pregnancy and have not had regular blood pressure or heart health check, talk to your doctor so they can monitor and help manage your risk.
For more information, watch our video on pregnancy complications and cardiovascular disease.
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy and is diagnosed when higher than normal blood glucose levels appear during pregnancy.
While the mother’s blood glucose usually returns to normal after the birth of the baby, women who have experienced gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing Type II diabetes and heart disease in later life.
If you experienced gestational diabetes talk to your doctor about monitoring your heart health and managing your risk.
What should I do if I have a pre-existing heart condition?
Women with pre-existing heart conditions are encouraged to see their doctor before trying to conceive. They may also need closer monitoring throughout their pregnancy.
Because of the increased stress pregnancy and labour put on the heart, it is important that any woman with a pre-existing heart condition is assessed by a cardiologist before becoming pregnant.