According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading killer of women in the United States, with one in four women dying of heart disease. The good news, reports the American Heart Association, is that 80 percent of strokes and heart disease events are preventable with lifestyle changes.\nWhy is the risk of heart disease in women higher than in men? The populations share many health concerns, but women have additional risk factors. It\u2019s important to be aware of these risk factors so you can monitor and care for your health.\nIf you think you are at risk for heart disease, please call the Women\u2019s Heart Program, part of the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, at 855-876-2484.\nHeart Health Risk Factors Specific to Women\nKathryn L. Berlacher, MD, medical director of the Magee-Womens Heart Program, identifies the top risk factors for heart disease that are unique to women:\n\nHormones \u2014 Women produce more estrogen, which raises a woman\u2019s HDL, the \u201cgood\u201d cholesterol, and lowers LDL, the \u201cbad\u201d cholesterol. During menopause, estrogen levels decrease. This drop can lead women to develop high blood pressure (hypertension) and increased LDL cholesterol levels.\nPregnancy \u2014 Pregnancy itself does not raise the risk of heart disease. However, if a woman experiences high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, or preeclampsia during pregnancy, she is at higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease later in life.\nStress \u2014 Although stress is a risk factor for both sexes, women\u2019s stress seems to produce symptoms more often. \u201cRecent studies show that women who have chest pain during emotional or stressful events are at higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease,\u201d Dr. Berlacher says. Stress increases inflammation in the body, which can disrupt plaque buildup in the arteries and ultimately cause heart attacks.\n\nOther Risk Factors\nBoth women and men can have other risk factors for heart disease, Dr. Berlacher says, including:\n\nFamily history \u2014 Family history of heart disease, including parents and siblings, is important. If one or more of these close family members has heart disease, \u201cyou are at higher risk for having it, because it\u2019s thought to be a genetic condition,\u201d says Dr. Berlacher.\nHigh blood pressure \u2014 Those with hypertension are at a higher risk for stroke or cardiovascular disease.\nDiabetes \u2014 Someone with borderline diabetes or who has been diagnosed with diabetes has a higher risk of heart disease. People with diabetes can also develop high cholesterol more quickly than those who do not have the disease.\nSmoking \u2014 People who smoke have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. \u201cAny amount of smoking will increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, even if it\u2019s just one cigarette per day,\u201d says Dr. Berlacher. Smoking causes inflammation in the body and hardens the arteries, increasing a person\u2019s risk for stroke or heart attack. In fact, women who smoke are at risk of having a heart attack 19 years earlier than women who don\u2019t smoke.\nDiet \u2014 An excessive amount of meat, fried foods, and cheese also can increase heart disease risk.\nRheumatoid arthritis and lupus \u2014 Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus increase a person\u2019s risk of heart disease.\n\nRELATED: You Need to Know These 5 Heart Health Numbers\nKnow the Warning Signs of Heart Disease in Women\nKnowing the warning signs for cardiovascular events may enable you to catch problems earlier. Getting medical help at the first sign of trouble can improve the likelihood of a better outcome, with fewer complications. Symptoms of a heart attack are a little different for women with heart disease than for men, Dr. Berlacher says.\nFor women with heart disease, symptoms of a cardiac event or heart attack may include:\n\nIntermittent pressure or pain in the chest\nNausea\nPain in the jaw, arm, or back\nSevere fatigue\nShortness of breath\nSweating\n\nAlthough men also experience some of these symptoms (including chest pain and arm pain), the symptoms may be less dramatic in women.\nFor any symptoms of a heart attack, it\u2019s important to seek medical care immediately.\nFor other types of heart disease, also look for symptoms, such as:\n\nAnkle or foot swelling\nAnxiety\nDizziness\nFainting\nPalpitations\nRapid weight gain\n\nStaying Healthy\nYour heart disease risk factors can help you and your doctor decide whether you need heart function screenings, tests, or interventions. You can also discuss lifestyle changes that may decrease your risk.\nAccording to the CDC, about 64 percent of women who die of coronary heart disease did not display symptoms, which means it\u2019s important to consider your risks and take appropriate preventive measures.\nReducing Stress\nIt\u2019s impossible to eliminate stress entirely, but you can try to cultivate a lifestyle that reduces stress: exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and make time to engage in activities that let you relax.\nEating Right\nEating whole foods is a great way to maintain a healthful diet, which is good for your heart. \u201cThe more food that comes directly from the ground or directly from a tree, the better,\u201d Dr. Berlacher says. \u201cThe less food that comes out of a can, bag, or box, the better.\u201d\nAspirin: Yes or No?\nResearchers have explored the use of baby aspirin as a preventive measure. However, \u201cyou may not need a baby aspirin,\u201d Dr. Berlacher says. \u201cBaby aspirin can increase your risk for bleeding, so the potential benefit may be about the same as the risk of harm in some individuals.\u201d Consult your doctor before taking baby aspirin or any type of supplements, including herbal supplements.\nIf you think you are at risk for heart disease, please call the Women\u2019s Heart Program, part of the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, at 855-876-2484.\nIf you have questions about full, in-network access to UPMC doctors and hospitals, please call our help line at 1-855-646-8762.