Heart Attacks

Heart Attacks Are Becoming Common in Younger Women, Study Finds

Research shows that young women admitted to hospitals for heart attacks were more likely to have medical conditions that raise heart attack risk and less likely to receive treatment and medication than young men.

Heart attacks are becoming more common in young women, according to a new study published in a special Go Red for Women edition of the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.

Researchers analyzed hospital admissions data in the United States and found that hospital visits for heart attacks in patients between age 35 and 54 increased from 27 percent in 1995–99 to 32 percent in 2010–14. The increase was more pronounced in women, who had a 10 percent rise in admission rates compared with 3 percent for men.

The study also discovered that young women admitted to hospitals for heart attacks were more likely to be black and have high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, and other medical conditions known to increase heart attack risk.

These women were also less likely to receive invasive treatments to open clogged arteries and also less likely to receive guideline-recommended medications such as blood thinners, beta-blockers, cholesterol-lowering drugs, and therapies to reduce the risk of future heart attacks.

“Younger women probably have been overlooked to some extent in their heart disease risk, and that’s something healthcare providers need to be aware of,” says one of the study’s authors, Melissa Caughey, PhD, a cardiovascular epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill. “Some of the differences we’re seeing may be because women are presenting atypical symptoms.”

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Heart attacks occur when blood flow to part of the heart is blocked, often by a blood clot. According to the American Heart Association, this can happen when the arteries that supply the heart with blood become thick with buildup from fat, cholesterol, and other substances, called plaque.

Men and women can have different heart attack symptoms, and many of the telltale signs people know of — such as crushing chest pain — are more common in men. Women, on the other hand, may experience symptoms like:

  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • On-and-off pressure in the chest
  • Pain in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach

The study was limited though, because researchers used samples from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, which looked at 21 hospitals in four states: Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, and North Carolina. The data was extracted from medical records that may have omitted important patient information like history of obesity or diabetes, two conditions that Dr. Caughey warns are big factors that increase heart attack risk.

Still, the research reveals an ominous trend.

“Women who have had heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases continue to experience disproportionately higher death rates than men,” said Joseph A. Hill, MD, PhD, the editor in chief of Circulation, in a press release.

Caughey recommends that women educate themselves on symptoms and treatments for heart attacks and maintain a healthy body weight.

“It’s never too early to start adopting a heart healthy lifestyle,” she says.

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