Women and Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading killer of women in the United States. Yet, many women don’t recognize the signs of heart disease, heart attacks, arrhythmias, and other cardiac problems.

Allegheny Health Network’s cardiologists at the Women’s Heart Center work with you to identify and manage your specific heart disease risk factors. We help you make healthy lifestyle changes to protect your heart health, while helping you recognize the warning signs of heart problems that are unique to women.

Heart disease risk factors in women

Your chances of developing heart disease increase starting at age 55. Besides age and a family history of heart problems, other risk factors that are more commonly associated with women include:

  • Autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Reduced estrogen levels due to natural or medically induced menopause
  • Use of oral contraceptives
  • History of depression
  • Cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation to the chest for breast cancer
  • High blood pressure during pregnancy (preeclampsia)
  • Gestational diabetes (diabetes that develops during pregnancy)
  • Chronic stress


Risk factors that affect both genders include:

  • High cholesterol (total cholesterol above 200 mg/dL, LDL above 160 mg/dL, HDL below 40 mg/dL)
  • High blood pressure (above 120/80 mm Hg)
  • Sedentary lifestyle (less than 150 minutes of activity per week)
  • Body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher
  • Diabetes
  • Tobacco use

Lowering heart disease risk in women

The Women’s Heart Center offers lifestyle management programs to help you live healthier and lower your heart disease risk. Our offerings include:

  • Dietary and nutrition counseling, including diabetes education
  • Stress management
  • Smoking cessation program
  • Cholesterol management
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Integrated medicine services for stress management, such as relaxation exercises and Reiki therapy
  • Learn more about our women’s heart services.

Heart attack symptoms in women

Chest pain or discomfort is the most common sign of a heart attack in both women and men. But women may experience other, more subtle symptoms with or without chest pain.

You should call 9-1-1 immediately if you’re experiencing any of the following heart attack signs:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of chest (this feeling may come and go)
  • Pain or discomfort in the back, jaw, neck, stomach, or arms
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Cold sweats
  • Unusual fatigue

Contact us

Call (412) DOCTORS (412) 362-8677 or request an appointment to learn more about AHN women’s heart services.