Heart conditions in women

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Heart conditions in women

Like men, women can be diagnosed with a range of 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 women and heart disease

  • Are there specific heart conditions that women are diagnosed with?

    Like men, women can be diagnosed with a range of 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).

    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.

    Knowing the warning signs of a heart attack and getting treatment as quickly as possible are important messages for women of all ages.

  • 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. They often put the needs of others before themselves. Which means 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 the medical profession all have an important role to play in supporting women live well 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.

    Find more information on pregnancy and heart disease.

Common questions about heart disease and pregnancy

  • 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 use 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 
    •    Pre-eclampsia
    •    Gestational diabetes

    These women will also be closely monitored by their health team throughout their pregnancy. Recent research also recommends ongoing monitoring of heart disease risk factors for these women. Vascular complications in pregnancy might be a signpost to heart disease problems 10 - 15 years after your pregnancy. If you have experienced these conditions during your pregnancy, see your health practitioner for a heart health check and regular monitoring.

  • What is pre-eclampsia?

    Pre eclampsia is a serious disorder unique to pregnancy. It is characterised by high maternal blood pressure and the involvement of one or more of the body’s organ systems. This most commonly involves the kidneys and protein in the urine and severe fluid retention is often seen in these women.

    Women diagnosed with pre-eclampsia or high blood pressure in pregnancy are at increased risk of subsequent hypertension and cardiovascular disease compared to women who did not experience these conditions. It is recommended that women who have experienced pre-eclampsia or hypertension in pregnancy have an annual blood pressure check and regular assessment of other cardiovascular risk factors. [Society of Obstetric Medicine of Australia and New Zealand. Guideline for the Management of Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy. 2014.]

    If you experienced preeclampsia during pregnancy and have not had regular blood pressure or heart health checks, talk to your healthcare provider so they can monitor and help you manage your risk.

    For more information, watch our video on pregnancy complications and cardiovascular disease. Also, watch Jo's story and Sabine's story, where real women share their experiences of preeclampsia during pregnancy. 

  • 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 first 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 cardiovascular disease in later life.

    If you experienced gestational diabetes talk to your healthcare provider about monitoring your heart health and managing your future risk.

  • What should I do if I have a pre-existing heart condition?

    A woman with a pre-existing heart condition is encouraged to see her doctor before trying to conceive and may need closer monitoring by a multidisciplinary health care team throughout her pregnancy. Because of the increased cardiac demands during pregnancy and labour it is important that any woman with a pre-existing heart condition is assessed by a cardiologist with expertise in maternal cardiology before becoming pregnant. Contact your doctor or local hospital for further details.

Access a range of heart health resources developed by the Heart Foundation. 

For heart health support contact the Heart Foundation Helpline on 13 11 12 during business hours (local charges apply) or email the team of qualified health professionals. ​