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Women and Heart Failure

Some unique aspects of heart failure in women


Updated May 16, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Heart failure is a major cause of death and disability in women. As is the case with men, most women with heart failure develop the condition as a result of coronary artery disease or longstanding high blood pressure. And usually the symptoms and treatment of heart failure are similar in women and in men.

But there are a few aspects of heart failure that pertain especially to women, and if you are a woman who has heart failure, you should be aware of them.

Is the Treatment You Are Receiving Aggressive Enough?

Evidence suggests that, for reasons that are not entirely clear, doctors tend not to be as aggressive in treating women with heart failure as they are in treating men. Consequently, many women with heart failure tend to be under-treated, and suffer from more symptoms, and most likely from higher mortality, than men.

One reason for this discrepancy in therapy may be that women tend to minimize their symptoms of heart failure to their doctors, so that doctors are unaware just how sick and disabled they actually are.

If you have heart failure you should familiarize yourself with the symptoms that can be caused by heart failure, and report any changes in symptoms to your doctor. Give your doctor a chance to treat you the way you deserve to be treated.

Also, you should also familiarize yourself with the treatments which are available, and which you ought to expect, if you have heart failure - and insist your doctor use all the therapies that have been proven effective.

Do You Have Diastolic Heart Failure?

More women than men develop "diastolic heart failure," a variety of heart failure that is often missed by physicians who are insufficiently alert. Consequently, these women are inadequately treated. This is particularly unfortunate since diastolic heart failure appears to account for more than half the cases of heart failure in women.

Have You Had Broken-Heart Syndrome?

A once-rare condition that is being recognized much more frequently today, broken-heart syndrome (also known as stress cardiomyopathy), is a form of acute heart failure that seems to affect far more women than men.


Aurigemma, GP, Gaasch, WH. Clinical practice. Diastolic heart failure. N Engl J Med 2004; 351:1097.

Richardson, P, McKenna, W, Bristow, M, et al. Report of the 1995 World Health Organization/International Society and Federation of Cardiology Task Force on the Definition and Classification of cardiomyopathies. Circulation 1996; 93:841.

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