OSF St. Joseph Medical Center

Heart Disease

Heart disease comes in many forms and develops over many years. The most common form of heart disease is coronary heart disease. Coronary heart disease occurs when plaque builds up in the coronary arteries.

The plaque is made of cholesterol, calcium, fat and other substances. It builds up over time and narrows the arteries, reducing blood flow to the heart.

Eventually, the artery is so narrow is ruptures or becomes completely blocked.


The symptoms and signs women experience vary greatly from men. Typically, men experience an “elephant on the chest” whereas women can experience little to no chest pain. Other signs include:

  • Shortness of breath 
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Jaw, shoulder and back pain

Leading Cause of Death in Women

Heart disease has a history of being a man’s disease. On the contrary, heart disease is the leading cause of death among women. According to the American Heart Association®, heart disease kills more women than stroke and any form of cancer, including breast cancer. Every hour, 60 women in the United States, meaning one in four, die of heart disease.

Time is Muscle 

It is important to know “time is muscle,” meaning the sooner medical attention is received, the better the outcomes will be after a heart event.

Although the symptoms are not usually distinct, it is better to seek urgent medical assistance than to wait. If someone is having a heart attack, immediately call 9-1-1.

Heart Disease is Preventable

Most women do not realize heart disease is preventable and the controllable risks drastically outweigh the uncontrollable risks. Women can control their blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking, weight and physical activity. Risk factors women cannot control include family history and age.

If women have one of these risk factors, they double their chances of developing heart disease. If they have two factors, the risk quadruples. Eating healthy, exercising regularly and quitting smoking can all drastically reduce the risk of heart disease.

For More Information

It is never too late to protect your heart. Make it a priority to learn which risks you may have and how you can take steps to reduce them.

Please contact your primary care provider for more information.