A heart attack (myocardial infarction in medical terms) kills more people in the United States and throughout the world than any other disease. The factors that cause and increase your risk remain standard but there are certain causes and factors that are responsible for a heart attack in women, which make women more susceptible than men.

Although the causes and risk factors for a heart attack in the general population cover men, women, children, teenagers, and young adults, women are at higher odds of developing a heart attack. This is because there are certain additional risk factors for heart attacks in women.

There are certain causes and risk factors, which make children and young adults more prone to heart attack.

Similarly, there are certain causes and risk factors that are specifically responsible for heart attacks in women.

Taking into account the statistics for the last thirty-two years, more women have died of a heart attack than men have.

Heart disease kills one in three women each year in the United States. If you narrow it down to time, heart disease kills one woman each minute in the United States.

Against that, breast cancer kills 1 in 31 women each year. Yet, you will find that there is more awareness about breast cancer than of heart disease in the United States.

A heart attack is caused by the blockage of a coronary artery or its branches. This results in an inadequate supply of blood to the heart muscle wall. The blockage can even be complete in which case the blood supply will be totally cut off to the part of the muscle wall supplied by the affected artery. Being deprived of blood and oxygen, the heart tissue dies and forms an infarct.

Among the general causes of heart attack, atherosclerosis or coronary artery disease is responsible for 80% of the cases of blockages. Coronary artery spasm is responsible for the rest of the cases.

In atherosclerosis, cholesterol, which is a wax-like substance, sticks to the inner wall of the arteries, especially when the person has elevated cholesterol levels.

Risk factors that cause heart attacks in women

Although the traditional and established causes of heart attack are the same in men, women, and young adults in their 20s and 30s, there are certain risk factors that make women more prone than men to developing a heart attack.


Low levels of estrogen after menopause put the woman at a greater risk of developing heart disease. An overall increase in heart attacks is seen about 10 years after the onset of menopause.

Estrogen is believed to have a healthy effect on the inner walls of the arteries making them more flexible. This causes healthy circulation in the body and the heart. A healthy circulation accounts for a healthy heart.

Other effects of menopause include a rise in LDL cholesterol levels and the blood pressure too tends to go up. Both these factors potentially increase the risk of heart disease.


Pregnancy puts additional stress on the heart. During pregnancy, the blood volume goes up by 30 to 50 percent. The amount of blood pumped by the heart during each heartbeat also increases by 30 to 50 percent. This extra workload on the heart puts the woman at great risk of a heart attack.

Secondly, the enlarged uterus can press on the neighboring veins and slow down blood circulation. This increases the chances of clot formation and coronary artery embolus, which potentially increases the risk of a heart attack.

Heart attacks caused by spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) or a coronary artery spasm are more common in pregnant women than in nonpregnant women.


According to a study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, women with pre-eclampsia have a higher chance of heart attack within just seven years of delivery an this risk remains high for more than 20 years.

Women with pre-eclampsia were four times more likely to have a heart attack within 10 years of delivery than those without pre-eclampsia. The risk of heart attack in such women was twice as high in the pre-eclampsia group even more than 20 years after giving birth.

Lack of physical activity

In general, women tend to be less active than men. This is why women tend to be more overweight or obese than men. Obesity is an independent risk factor that increases the risk of high blood pressure and also directly makes you prone to a heart attack.


The incidence of diabetes has risen considerably both in men and women, young and old. According to the American Diabetes Association, 9.3 million women have diabetes in the United States.

Diabetes poses a significantly higher risk of heart attack in women than in men. In men with diabetes, the risk of a heart attack is double while in diabetic women it is triple, as compared to non-diabetics.

In premenopausal women with diabetes, the risk of a heart attack increases because diabetes cancels out the protective effect of estrogen on the heart.

Women with diabetes are five times more likely to suffer from heart problems than their non-diabetic counterparts.

Again, women with diabetes are twice as likely to suffer a second heart attack and four times more likely to suffer from heart attack complications than women without diabetes.

Stress and depression

Women are twice as likely to suffer from stress and depression than men, possibly due to hormonal fluctuations.

Their threshold to bear the stress out is also low as compared to men. The adverse effect on the heart due to stress and depression is seen more in women than men.

Depression also makes it more difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle such as a healthy diet and a regular exercise program. This can invite other heart attack risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.


  • Cigarette smoking is a major cause of death due to heart disease in the United States.
  • Smoking poses a 25 percent higher risk of a heart attack in women than in men.
  • Smoking can double the risk of death due to sudden cardiac arrest in women.
  • In women who smoke and take birth control pills, the risk is even greater.