Skip to main content

Women's Heart Health

Translations available:

Women’s Heart Health – Key Facts

There are around 100,000 women in Scotland living with heart disease and it is one of the most common causes of death for women across the country. Despite this, heart attacks and heart disease are often underestimated and under-treated in women compared to men.

  • 10 women die from heart attacks and heart disease in Scotland every day.
  • Women in Scotland are more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as breast cancer.
  • Women are more likely than men to receive the wrong diagnosis, and receive half as many heart treatments.

Women face serious inequalities in heart treatment, are less likely to recognise the symptoms of a heart attack and are often affected by extra risk factors like pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause.

Heart attack symptoms

Women can experience heart failure and heart attacks differently to men. This is often used to explain why fewer women are diagnosed in time.

However, the core symptoms are the same across sexes. People experiencing a heart attack, regardless of gender, often experience:

  • Chest pain
  • Pain elsewhere in the body, e.g. the arm, neck, or back
  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed
  • Sweating
  • Breathlessness, coughing, or wheezing
  • A feeling of intense anxiety
  • Feeling sick or being sick

There is some evidence that women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, feeling or being sick, and jaw, shoulder, or back pain than men. More women than men also report that their chest pain was not severe, or was not the main symptom they noticed.

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is vital that you call 999 immediately, even if you do not think you are in a high-risk category for heart attack. Acting fast saves lives!

Risk factors for women

There are some aspects of lifestyle that can cause more risk of heart problems in women. For example:

  • Stress. According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), women are almost twice as likely to report severe stress and anxiety than men.
  • Increased risk of certain diseases that affect your heart, like Long Covid, metabolic diseases, and anaemia.
  • Lower rates of exercise.

There are also several risk factors associated with female anatomy, hormones, and fertility.

  • Before menopause, high levels of oestrogen help to protect against heart disease, but the hormonal imbalance that comes with menopause can cause high blood pressure and heart damage.
  • People with endometriosis (a common disorder of the uterus) have a higher risk of heart and circulation problems.
  • There are many pregnancy complications that can increase your risk of heart complications: preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, or prolonged labour can all put your heart under long-term stress.
  • Hormonal birth control. Taking the “combined pill” for birth control can increase your blood pressure and raise the risk of blood clots.

Catriona found a listening ear

Mum of two Catriona had a heart attack just as lockdown was beginning, and she felt anxious and on edge because the usual support wasn’t available.

“I was given booklets about diet and exercise when I was discharged home and I was told someone would be in touch, but I didn’t know when. I did feel quite isolated and I wasn’t confident about what to do next, so that’s why I phoned Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland.”

Catriona began talking to Wendy from our Advice Line and got the invaluable practical and emotional support she really needed.

“I feel like I can ask Wendy anything – even if it’s a daft question. And I know I could call her at any time if I feel worried. It is so reassuring to know she is there for me.”

Read full story

This page was last updated on March 3, 2023 and is under regular review. If you feel anything is missing or incorrect, please contact to provide feedback.

Share this page
  • Was this helpful ?
  • YesNo