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NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

Heart Disease Affects Women of All Ages

Young Women:

  • Lifestyle-related factors that increase heart disease risk are increasingly common among girls, teenagers, and young adults.
  • Physical activity levels drop sharply as girls become teenagers. By the age of 15 or 16, 28 percent of Caucasian girls and 58 percent of African American girls report no habitual leisure-time physical activity.
  • Almost 15 percent of girls ages 6-19 are overweight.
  • About 25 percent of girls in grades 9-12 reported using tobacco in 2003; about 80 percent of smokers begin before age 18.

Middle-Aged Women:

  • At menopause, a woman's heart disease risk starts to increase significantly.
  • Each year, about 88,000 women ages 45-64 have a heart attack.
  • About half of women who have a heart attack before age 65 die within 8 years.
  • Heart disease rates are 2-3 times higher for postmenopausal women than for those of the same age who have not yet undergone menopause.
  • Menopausal hormone therapy, with estrogen alone or with progestin—once thought to lower risk—is not recommended for long-term use to prevent heart disease.
  • The lifetime risk of developing high blood pressure for women aged 55 is about 90 percent.
  • Beginning at age 45, more women than men have a total cholesterol over 200 md/dL—borderline high or higher.

Older Women:

  • About 21 million women aged 60 and older have high blood pressure.
  • Most women over age 65 have obvious heart disease or "silent" atherosclerosis ("hardening of the arteries"). In silent atherosclerosis, there are no symptoms but fatty plaques have built up in arteries.
  • Each year, about 372,000 women aged 65 and older have a heart attack.
  • The average age for women to have a first heart attack is about 70—and women are more likely than men to die within a few weeks of a heart attack.

For Women with Heart Disease:

  • About 6 million American women have coronary heart disease.
  • Heart disease has no quick fix—even if a special procedure, such as an angioplasty, is performed, heart disease will worsen unless treated with lifestyle changes and medication.
  • Twenty-three percent of women will die within 1 year after having an initial recognized heart attack.
  • About 35 percent of women who have had a heart attack will have another within 6 years.
  • About half of women who have a heart attack will be disabled with heart failure within 6 years. Heart failure is a life-threatening condition in which the heart cannot pump enough blood to supply the body's needs.

To learn more about heart disease and how to lower your risk:

  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 301-592-8573, TTY: 240-629-3255
  • Office on Women's Health, DHHS National Women's Health Information Center, 1-800-994-WOMAN, TDD: 1-888-220-5446
  • American Heart Association, 1-888-MY HEART
  • WomenHeart: the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, 202-728-7199
  • MedlinePlus:, type "heart disease in women" into search box.

Read More "The Red Dress" Articles
The Red Dress: Getting to the Heart of Women's Health / Guidelines for Better Heart Health / Heart Disease Affects Women of All Ages

Winter 2007 Issue: Volume 2 Number 1 Page 5