The health of young women living in the U.S. is not as good as it could be. That’s because an increasing number of young women have been having more heart attacks and dying from heart disease since 2010. This disturbing news is from a nationwide study that found more women under the age of 65 are being stricken with heart disease than in the past decade.
Possible reasons for the increase in heart attacks in young women
One potential cause could be the rising epidemics of diabetes and obesity in nations such as the U.S. Younger women may not always be putting their health first. When working a full-time job, taking care of young children and elderly parents can be a juggling act. Often these women have little time for themselves of taking care of their own health and well-being. It’s time women in this age group make their health a priority so they will be there in the future for their families.
Results of studies
While heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, more young women have died from cancer than heart disease in the U.S. This notable finding was discovered when researchers with the study used death certificates to compare deaths from cancer with deaths from heart disease in women under 65 between 1999 and 2018. There are concerns that if cardiovascular disease mortality continues to rise in younger women, it may become the leading cause of death in this age group, more so than cancer.
A 2018 study in the journal Circulation, that reviewed more than 28,000 hospitalizations for heart attacks in four cities, also found this same trend of heart attack rates rising among women ages 35-54. The observational study was unable to state as to why this was happening but it was suspected that more young women had more risk factors for developing heart disease at an earlier age.
Risk factors increasing heart attacks in women
- Pregnancy history – Women who’ve had preeclampsia or gestational diabetes or preterm deliveries are at an increased risk for heart disease. Conditions like preeclampsia make women more vulnerable to heart disease a decade after the pregnancy.
- Early menopause – Women, who go through menopause before age 45, are at an increased risk for heart disease.
- High blood pressure – Women can develop high blood pressure as a side effect of birth control pills or during pregnancy. All women over age 65 are more likely than men to have high blood pressure.
- High cholesterol – Estrogen seems to protect women against unhealthy levels of cholesterol. But after menopause, estrogen levels drop and high cholesterol becomes more likely.
- Smoking – Although men are more likely to smoke, the gap in cigarette usage between genders is smaller than ever and women are less likely to be able to quit successfully.
- Other risk factors – Diabetes, obesity, family history of heart disease, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and stress, all are major contributors to increasing a woman’s risk for a heart attack.
It’s recommended that women over the age of 50 who are at an increased risk for heart disease, should not use estrogen and progesterone medications, if possible. If hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms are particularly bad but a woman’s overall risk for a heart attack is low, hormone replacement therapy may be fine. But it’s always best for women to discuss this issue with their primary care physician.
Heart attack symptoms in women
For most people – men and women – chest pain or discomfort are the primary symptoms of a heart attack. Women, however, are more likely than men to have other less recognizable symptoms of a heart attack that include the following:
- Cold sweats
- Shortness of breath
- Pain or discomfort in a different part of the upper body (back, neck, jaw, arms, or stomach)
- Nausea and vomiting
Steps women can do to prevent a heart attack
Not all risk factors are under our control but for those that are, now is the time to take preventative steps to reduce the risk of a heart attack. It’s never too late to adopt healthy habits. Basic lifestyle changes are the backbone of achieving good health and they include:
- Reaching and maintaining healthy body weight.
- Eating a healthy diet, avoid ultra-processed foods and excess sugar
- Exercise regularly to boost heart health
- Reduce alcohol intake
- Avoid sitting for long periods at a time. Every hour get up and move at least 5-10 minutes.
- Manage stress and have a plan to reduce stress as much as possible
- See your doctor annually for a complete physical