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What women need to know about birth control, sleep and heart disease

Mar 5, 2024

When women consider self-care, images of a soothing facial or massage may come to mind. Vacation scenes of sun and beach, lake and cabin might also surface, or a night out with best friends. While those options are delightful choices, another kind of self-care may be far more important: protecting the heart.

Heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer, Alzheimer’s, and respiratory diseases combined. More women than men die from heart disease each year.

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Thanks to philanthropic support from Penny and Lee Anderson, the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation (MHIF) established the Penny Anderson Women’s Cardiovascular Center in 2018 to focus on advancing heart research and outcomes for women. The work of this center is also amplified through partnerships with organizations like WomenHeart – a national patient-centered organization focusing exclusively on women’s heart disease – to create educational materials shared with a network of women across the country. This partnership focused first on the creation of educational modules on a variety of topics and more recently on two infographics that amplify the roles of birth control and sleep for women to consider as they take care of their heart.

Birth control

“Women currently bear most of the financial and health-related burdens of contraception,” according to the American Medical Association. Several birth control choices are available to women, and each has different implications for heart health, particularly in women with known heart disease.

Products containing hormones (the pill, vaginal ring, and some intrauterine devices, or IUDs) may contain a combination of estrogen and progestin, or progestin only. Estrogen is not recommended for some women in their childbearing years if they have certain heart conditions.

Other temporary birth control options include long-lasting, reversible methods such as progestin implants or IUDs, some of which don’t contain estrogen. Tubal ligation – “having your tubes tied” – is a permanent option for women who no longer want children or for whom a pregnancy would bring too great a risk.


Getting enough restful sleep is associated with greater productivity, enhanced creativity, and better heart and mental health. For a variety of reasons, says, “women are more likely to experience insomnia than men.” For some, the situation only worsens as the years tick by: “Sleeping problems are considered to be a core symptom of perimenopause and menopause. Around 40% to 60% of women during this time report sleep disturbances, including symptoms consistent with insomnia.”

Sleep of insufficient quality or duration can affect a woman’s heart. Women whose sleep schedules are irregular are nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease than those with regular sleep patterns. Those who already have heart disease and sleep poorly are more than twice as likely to have a cardiac event than women who have good sleep quality.

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In recent years the value of adequate sleep has been increasingly studied and talked about, and there’s proven strategies that can help women sleep better. One of the simplest steps, and for some perhaps the most difficult, is staying away from screens and the blue light they emit for at least an hour before bedtime. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, and avoiding stimulants like caffeine and nicotine late in the day, are also helpful. Although alcohol may initially relax those who partake, drinking even small amounts of alcohol before bed is known to disrupt sleep.

Women and heart disease

Heart disease looks and behaves differently in women than in men, and until relatively recently, most available preventative information was based on male-centric research. MHIF’s Penny Anderson Women’s Cardiovascular Center aims to change that.

At MHIF, we are committed to conducting innovative research to understand what risk factors and conditions are unique to women. We translate our learnings into best practices for health care providers and women of all ages. It’s time to empower women and their providers with the vital information needed to prevent and manage heart disease, so women of all ages can live healthy and happy lives.

It is important for women to understand that the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) is cumulative throughout a lifetime and based on many different factors. The Women’s Heart Health Resources page on MHIF’s website features a timeline of the cumulative risk, and the new infographics on birth control and sleep, created in partnership with WomenHeart. Together, we will inspire women to take care of their hearts!

More about WomenHeart

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Founded in 1999 and now in its 25th year, WomenHeart is a volunteer-led organization that hosts nearly 100 peer-to-peer patient groups across the country that support women in prioritizing care for their hearts. They’ve trained more than 900 women heart disease survivors as community educators, and host bi-annual Advocacy Institute conferences to train women living with heart disease to be public policy advocates and form the basis of a grassroots policy movement. WomeHeart also created the Red Bag of Courage® program, placing educational information about women and heart disease directly into the hands of hundreds of thousands of women living with or at-risk for heart disease.

Give the Gift of Hope
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The Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation® (MHIF) strives to create a world without heart and vascular disease. To achieve this bold vision, we are dedicated to improving the cardiovascular health of individuals and communities through innovative research and education.

Thanks to the generosity of donors like you, we can continue this life-saving work. Please make a gift to support the area of greatest need.

Research Milestone: FDA approves device used as alternative to open-heart

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Triclip team

We are honored to celebrate the culmination of years of research that has resulted in new technologies for patients! In the few last weeks, we announced a similar research milestone with the FDA approval of the TriClip system for tricuspid regurgitation. We celebrated this important milestone with local media KSTP-TV, who spotlighted the importance of this new technology. We were proud to be a leading clinical site led by Global PI Dr. Paul Sorajja and the MHIF research team who contributed significant data to the pivotal trial.