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Women’s Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, claiming the life of about one in every three women. Understanding the risks and getting the right care can help you manage or even prevent heart disease.

At the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Heart & Vascular Center, we provide specialized care for women with all types of heart disease. Our skilled team is experienced in identifying heart disease in women and providing treatments that address women’s unique needs. We help you reduce your risks and live an active life.

Center for Women’s Heart Disease in St. Louis

At the Center for Women’s Heart Disease, we provide personalized care, including risk assessment, diagnosis and treatment. Our program offers:

  • Comprehensive care for women at every life stage: Our doctors provide care for women from their late teens throughout their entire adult life. We understand how women’s health factors, such as menstruation, pregnancy and menopause, intersect with heart health. Our team can help women with the rarest, most complex heart conditions.
  • Experienced team of experts: Our doctors have advanced training and experience in gender-specific care for a wide range of women’s health and heart conditions. Your care team includes specialists from several areas, including cardiology, ob/gyn and maternal-fetal medicine (for high-risk pregnancy). We work together daily to review every patient’s health and plan the next steps for your care.
  • Leading women’s heart health center in the Midwest: Women come to us from all over St. Louis and surrounding states. Our specialized program provides comprehensive care focused on women’s heart health, delivered by specialists with years of expertise. The Center for Women’s Heart Disease is a center of excellence, recognized for our commitment to providing exceptional care based on the latest research.
  • Convenient locations across St. Louis: You can see our specialists on the main campus of Barnes-Jewish Hospital or at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital in Creve Coeur. Often, you can see more than one doctor during the same appointment so you can speak with them together.
  • Groundbreaking research: Our doctors are researchers dedicated to advancing the standards of care for women’s heart health. We conduct research and clinical trials to improve diagnosis and treatment. As our patient, you may be eligible to participate, receiving treatments that are not widely available. Learn more about research at the Center for Women’s Heart Disease.

Exceptional Care for Women’s Heart Health

Our team delivers focused care that spans a woman’s lifetime. You have access to all specialists at Barnes-Jewish Hospital for coordinated care to meet all your health needs.

Women’s heart disease management

Our team specializes in comprehensive cardiovascular care for women living with heart disease of all types. We provide: 

  • expert evaluation, including a comprehensive cardiovascular risk assessment tailored to women’s health
  • counseling on women’s heart health topics, including contraception, hormone replacement therapy and heart disease prevention
  • referrals to nutrition counseling, cardiac rehabilitation, smoking cessation and weight management programs at Barnes-Jewish Hospital or in the community
  • medical management for all types of heart and vascular disease
  • advanced cardiac surgery options including minimally invasive procedures, open-heart surgery and heart transplant
  • specialized care for cardiovascular disease related to cancer and its treatment, coordinated with our Cardio-Oncology Center of Excellence

Care for pregnant women with heart disease

We take care of women who have cardiovascular disease during pregnancy. Our cardiologists, maternal-fetal medicine (high-risk pregnancy) specialists, obstetric anesthesiologists and neonatologists communicate regularly to discuss and plan care for every patient. Our care includes:

  • pregnancy risk assessment, planning and management for women with preexisting heart conditions
  • treatment for cardiovascular conditions that develop during pregnancy, such as peripartum cardiomyopathy, preeclampsia and coronary artery dissection
  • care coordination with your primary provider, obstetrician and cardiologist
  • delivery planning with our multidisciplinary team
  • postpartum heart care, including multidisciplinary blood pressure management, cardiovascular risk screening, contraception prescription and health counseling through the MY HEART clinic

Multidisciplinary family planning services

Some types of contraceptives (birth control) may increase your risk of heart disease or complications, if you already have a heart condition. Our multidisciplinary team works together to help you choose a birth control method that’s right for you. Our cardiovascular family planning clinic provides: 

  • contraception counseling for women with preexisting cardiovascular conditions
  • safe, effective methods of contraception, tailored to your unique needs to manage health risks
  • pre-pregnancy counseling on safe medications during pregnancy and cardiovascular risk of pregnancy

Heart Disease in Women

Our team treats women with all types of heart disease. Certain types occur more often in women than in men. These include:

  • Coronary artery vasospasm: A spasm (tightening) in a heart artery can partially or completely block blood flow to an area of heart muscle. A vasospasm can cause chest pain (angina pectoris), a heart attack  or an arrhythmia.
  • Heart failure: Your heart can become weak due to heart diseases or other conditions, preventing it from pumping enough blood to the body. Women are more likely to develop heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF). The heart muscle contracts normally, but the ventricles (lower heart chambers) do not relax as they should. HFpEF prevents the ventricles from filling fully with blood, meaning that they pump out less blood.
  • Microvascular heart disease: Also called small vessel disease, this condition affects the small arteries that branch off the main coronary arteries. Damage to these small vessels causes them to narrow, reducing blood flow to heart muscle. Microvascular heart disease can cause chest pain or a heart attack.
  • Pulmonary hypertension: High blood pressure can develop in the arteries that carry blood from your heart to your lungs. If the lung (pulmonary) arteries become narrowed, they cannot carry as much blood. Your heart must work harder to force blood through the arteries. Pulmonary hypertension can be life-threatening for pregnant women and their babies.
  • Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD): A tear in the inner layer of a coronary artery can happen, allowing blood to seep between the layers, causing the wall to bulge inward and narrow the artery. A SCAD can lead to chest pain or a heart attack.
  • Takotsubo cardiomyopathy: This temporary heart condition can result from extreme stress or intense emotion, such as grief or surprise. Also called broken heart syndrome, Takotsubo cardiomyopathy causes symptoms similar to heart attack symptoms, such as chest pain or shortness of breath. 

Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women

Women may experience signs and symptoms of heart disease differently than men do. Although most women experience chest pain or pressure when they are having a heart attack, they may be more likely to also have other symptoms.

Common heart disease symptoms 

Some heart attack symptoms that are common to both women and men include:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Pain in one or both arms
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating

Other heart disease symptoms in women

Women are more likely than men to experience heart attack symptoms besides chest pain. Symptoms more common in women include:

  • Heartburn or indigestion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain in your jaw, neck, shoulder, upper back or upper abdomen
  • Unexplained fatigue

Reducing the Risks of Heart Disease in Women

Several risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and excess weight, affect both women and men. Not all risk factors, such as age or race, are within your control. But you can control others, such as those related to habits. Find out how to reduce your risks with our recommendations for heart disease prevention.

Certain risk factors occur only in women or affect women more than men. These factors include:

  • diabetes
  • inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
  • early menopause
  • mental stress and depression
  • polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • pregnancy complications such as high blood pressure or diabetes 

Center for Women’s Heart Disease: Our Team

Our team is widely known for our skilled, compassionate care for women’s heart health. We’re one of only a few programs in the U.S. that trains other doctors in cardiovascular disease in women. You are in good hands with our experienced team. Find a doctor.

At the Center for Women’s Heart Disease, our team includes several types of cardiologists who provide care for all types of heart disease. Our cardiologists specialize in:

  • adult congenital heart disease, heart conditions that people are born with
  • cardiac imaging for diagnosis and treatment
  • cardio-oncology to treat heart conditions related to cancer and its treatment
  • electrophysiology to diagnose and treat arrhythmia
  • interventional cardiology to perform minimally invasive heart procedures

Additional team members include:

  • cardiac and vascular surgeons who treat conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels with surgery
  • maternal-fetal medicine specialists, ob/gyns who specialize in care for women with high-risk pregnancies
  • obstetrician/gynecologists who specialize in birth control and pregnancy planning for women with heart conditions
  • neonatologists who provide specialized care for critically ill newborns
  • obstetric anesthesiologists who provide pain management and other care during labor and delivery
  • pulmonologists who treat pulmonary hypertension
  • specialized nurses with expertise and training in cardiology, ob-gyn and intensive care 

Contact Us

To make an appointment with a Washington University cardiologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 314-362-1291.