Heart Disease Is Rising In Younger Women
Theres a lack of understanding in both women and men that a heart attack does not have to cause chest pain or these incredible movie-like symptoms, said Dr. Jacqueline Tamis-Holland, an author of the January study and a cardiologist at Mount Sinai Morningside in New York.
Dr. Tamis-Holland said there were other reasons for the delays. One is that women dont consider themselves to be as vulnerable to heart disease as men. Previous studies have shown that they are more likely to dismiss their symptoms as stress or anxiety. They also tend to develop heart disease at later ages than men. In Dr. Tamis-Hollands study, the women who had heart attacks were, on average, 69 years old, while the average age of the men was 61.
But younger women are not immune to heart disease. In fact, recent studies have found that heart attacks and deaths from heart disease have been rising among women between the ages of 35 and 54, in part because of an increase in cardiometabolic risk factors like high blood pressure and obesity.
I think a lot of young women cannot believe they have heart disease because its never been labeled as a disease of young women, said Dr. Lansky at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Second, the symptoms in younger women are even less typical theres less of the elephant-on-the-chest feeling and more indigestion, shortness of breath, malaise, fatigue and nausea things that are not very specific. That makes it difficult for them to identify it as a problem.
Other Potential Heart Attack Signs
Heart attack signs look different for everyone, although there are a few common ones to watch for.
- Neck, jaw, arm, and back pain: Pain radiating to your jaw, back, neck, or arms may signal a heart condition, especially if the origin is hard to pinpoint. For example, you might feel pain, but no specific muscle or joint aches. If the discomfort begins or worsens when you are exerting yourself, and then stops when you quit exercising, you should also get it checked out.
- Unexpected sweating: During menopause, many women experience hot flashes. However, sudden or excessive sweating associated with other symptoms such as nausea or chest pressure can also be a heart attack sign. Stress sweat when there is no real cause for stress, or sweating or shortness of breath accompanied by other symptoms, such as chest pain or fatigue, can be cause for concern.
- Chest pain: Chest pain/pressure is a very common heart attack sign, but can feel different than you might think. We need to dig deeper into the symptom of chest pain for both men and women as it relates to heart attacks, Dr. Cho says. It is seldom as dramatic as you might think, and it can feel like pressure or heart burn that comes on over time.
What To Do During A Heart Attack
According to Go Red for Women, if you experience heart attack signs or symptoms:
- Do not wait to call for help. Dial 9-1-1, make sure to follow the operator’s instructions and get to a hospital right away.
- Do not drive yourself. Have someone drive you to the hospital, unless you have no other choice.
Try to stay as calm as possible and take deep, slow breaths while you wait for the emergency responders.
Women often misdiagnose the symptoms of a heart attack because theyâre unaware of the signs or they consider themselves healthy and donât think it could happen to them. Thatâs why itâs so important to learn about heart disease and stroke, know your numbers, live a heart-healthy lifestyle and be aware of the risk factors of heart disease.
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When Should You See Your Doctor
Its always better to err on the side of caution if something doesnt feel right. If you have noticed that you are shorter of breath with regular activity, you should go to your general doctor or your cardiologist, says Dr. Cho. It depends on the severity and the acuteness if it has started recently or not.
When you do visit, be sure to:
- Bring a list of your symptoms and when they are occurring.
- Let them know about any related family history of heart disease.
- Talk about stress or anything going on in your life that might contribute to a problem.
Your doctor likely will listen to your symptoms and check your pulse and blood pressure. They may order blood work, which will show whether your heart is damaged. They also may use an electrocardiogram to tell whether the electrical activity of your heart is normal, or an echocardiogram to view images of the heart to see if damage has occurred. Some patients may get stress tests, a coronary computed tomography angiogram or a cardiac catheterization.All of this is important in identifying any problems and taking steps to intervene before a possible heart attack.
A Different Kind Of Heart Attack
If you have mild symptoms, they may be caused by a silent heart attack. These heart attacks are less likely to cause symptoms. Often, you may not know youve had one until days or even weeks later.
Theyre more common in women, particularly women under 65.
To identify whether youve had one, your doctor may perform an electrocardiogram, also called an EKG or ECG. This non-invasive test uses small sensors attached to your chest and arms to record your hearts electrical activity.
If testing does detect a silent heart attack, your doctor may suggest treatments like medication or cardiac rehab.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Heart Disease For Women
There tends to be a common misconception when it comes to the symptoms associated with heart disease in women. These symptoms can vary from those in men, so its important that women take the steps to understand the symptoms unique to them.
Only one in three women will experience typical heart attack symptoms such as pain in the centre of the chest. This can be severe, but can alternatively be described as uncomfortable pressure, squeezing or fullness which can last for a few minutes, go away, and then comes back.
Symptoms Of Heart Attack In Women:
- Unusual pain in your neck, chest, shoulder, jaw, abdomen and/or through to your back
- Feeling short of breath, sweaty
- Racing of your heart or feeling of fluttering
- Nausea and vomiting
If you experience one or more of these symptoms, then you should get immediate medical attention.
Feelings of embarrassment and not wanting to be a burden on others are major reasons why women tend to delay seeking treatment. It is important to identify any problems and take the necessary steps to intervene before a possible heart attack.
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How To Reduce The Risk Of Heart Attack In Females
One needs to act upon many lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of developing a heart attack. Such changes will keep heart attacks at bay and avoid the prevalence of any other cardiovascular disease. Mentioned below are some of the healthy changes females can strategize.
Quit smoking as well as avoid any exposure to secondhand smoking.
Eat a diet rich in grains, colorful fruits, and green leafy vegetables.
Avoid foods that have excessive fat and cholesterol.
Include fat-free dairy products.
Counseling session for reducing stress.
Taking the stairs instead of elevators.
Not sitting idle for more than 30 minutes.
- Distribution of zinc, copper and iron in biological samples of Pakistani myocardial infarction patients and controls
Dont Hesitate To Call 911
You might not have all of these heart attack warning signs. But if youre having any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. Dont wait.
In her work, Dr. Lee has seen both younger and older women put off going to the doctor even when theyre feeling heart attack symptoms. Young women are often focused on being the caretaker for their children or elderly parents, and they dont come into the hospital because theres no one else to take care of their children or parents, she says.
On the flip side, Dr. Lee has seen older women who are widowed and live alone not want to bother their children or friends. These women may be having chest pain, but they dont want to bother people. So they sit at home and hope the symptoms go away, she says. Sometimes, they dont drive and are too embarrassed to ask for help.
I think a lot of times women are used to being the caregivers, so when they themselves need help they arent used to asking for it, Dr. Lee says. This could be another reason why women wait so long to get care for heart attacks.
But its important to listen to your body and prioritize your health.
Bottom line: If youre not sure if youre having a heart attack, come into the hospital to get checked out. The earlier you come in for medical care, Dr. Lee says, the earlier we can start therapy and the less damage there will be to the heart.
The Four Silent Symptoms Of A Heart Attack
In addition to extreme fatigue, here are the most common symptoms of heart attacks in women, according to the American Heart Association, so you know what to look for. Note that you may not have all of them:
All of these signs are silent, in the sense that they are easy to ignore especially if you dont want to believe youre having a heart attack. Another reason people think of them as silent signs of a heart attack is that individually, these symptoms could all be attributed to other conditions. The chest pain, in particular, may not be the dramatic, elephant-on-my-chest stereotypical male heart attack pain, says Lichtman.
And the sheer number of these ambiguous symptoms may be one of the reasons many women dont know theyre having a heart attack, according to Lichtmans research there are other things bothering them, so they blow off the chest pain or pressure symptom, says Lichtman.
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Arm Back Neck Or Jaw Pain
Sometimes chest pain can radiate or travel through your arm, neck, jaw, or your back, says Dr. Lee. The pain may gradually get more intense over several minutes.
Since most people expect pain to be in their chest during a heart attack, these symptoms can be very confusing. This is especially true because it may be difficult to pinpoint where the pain started.
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How Men And Women Experience Heart Attack
Women and men can experience the signs and symptoms of a heart attack differently.
Men may experience:
- shortness of breath
Although chest pain is thought to be the most common symptom of heart attack and it is common in men only about half of all women who have a heart attack actually report chest pain.
What You Can Do To Reduce Your Risk Of Heart Disease
You may already know many of the risk factors for heart disease, such as family history, weight gain around the middle, smoking and high blood pressure. But there are other lesser-known risk factors that are also important. Heres what to do about them:
A note about declining estrogen in menopause. After the age of 55, your risk of heart attack increases greatly, especially if youve gone through menopause. This may be because of estrogen’s protective effects on the inner lining of the blood vessels when estrogen declines, so does the health of the blood vessel walls. But, hormone replacement therapy carries risks too. The Womens Health Initiative showed that both equine-based and synthetic hormone replacement therapies increase heart disease risk in postmenopausal women.
You may also notice that other risk factors increase around menopause. This is more likely if youve had less than healthy diet and lifestyle habits in the past and thats most of us! But remember, you can still do so much to reduce your risk going forward.
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What Is Heart Disease
Heart disease affects both sexes but often goes undetected in women. Although more men than women are admitted to hospital for heart attack, the number of deaths from heart attack in men and in women is roughly the same.
Cardiovascular disease often called heart disease is an umbrella term that includes diseases and conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels.
CHD is a common cause of heart attack, which occurs when blood supply to the heart is suddenly interrupted. The heart needs a constant supply of oxygen-rich blood delivered by the coronary arteries. If this is stopped, the heart muscle can get damaged and begin to die.
One Patients Success Story
Carol, 59 years young, had a history of high cholesterol, high blood sugar and low hormones from menopause. We discussed lifestyle medicine and optimized her nutrition plan, adding more phytonutrient dense foods, veggies and decreased sugar. She started working with a personal trainer twice weekly and lost body fat. We rechecked many of the labs discussed above. Her cholesterol decreased and we were able to taper off her statin medication. After a few months, we decreased her metformin. Currently she is completely off both of these medications!She was determined and motivated to decrease her cardiovascular risk and she did it!Carol is delighted that she does not have to take extra medications and that her lifestyle is optimizing her health. We used the concept of epigenetics and nutrigenomics to optimize her heart health.
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Catch The Signs Early
Dont wait to get help if you experience any of these heart attack warning signs. Some heart attacks are sudden and intense. But most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Pay attention to your body and call 911 if you experience:
- Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or it may go away and then return. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath. This can occur with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs. Other possible signs include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
Download the common heart attack warning signs infographic |
Women And Heart Disease
The term heart disease refers to several types of heart conditions, including coronary artery disease and heart attack.
Although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a mans disease, almost as many women as men die each year of heart disease in the United States.
This map shows death rates from heart disease in women in the United States. The darker red indicates a higher death rate.
The Symptoms Of A Heart Attack Are Different For Women Knowing How To Spot Them Could Save Lives
In the movies, a heart attack is a dramatic event. The victim clutches their chest and falls to the ground. In real life, though, the signs of a heart attack may be silent, or not nearly so obvious, especially for women.
Cardiovascular disease is the no. 1 cause of death in women, accounting for one in three female deaths each year. According to the American Heart Association, 80% of cardiovascular disease may be prevented.
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with heart disease, you can get support from your Asuris health plan. Many plans include Care Management, which can help you learn more about your disease and understand your treatment options.
Learning the signs of heart attacks in women can save lives. Learning how to prevent heart attacks can, too.
What Are The First Warning Signs Of A Heart Attack In A Woman
When a woman is having a heart attack, one of the first things she may notice is that shes feeling incredibly tired that is, more tired than the usual work-kids-Im-in-charge-of-everything kind of tired. Theres very good information on what premonitory symptoms that women had prior to being diagnosed, and the most common is overwhelming fatigue, says Dr. Watson.
You might not think youre having a heart attack when you feel this way, because it could be something else, and frankly, who hasnt felt totally wiped?
But heres the thing: Its almost always accompanied by something else: Chest pain, chest pressure, shortness of breath, indigestion, says Dr. Watson. Fatigue, says Dr. Watson, might not be the most prominent symptom, so its important to look at the totality of what youre feeling. If you have overwhelming fatigue and any of those other things, thats a sign that something is off, she says.
What Are The Risk Factors For Heart Attack
Several health conditions, your lifestyle, and your age and family history can increase your risk for heart disease and heart attack. These are called risk factors. About half of all Americans have at least one of the three key risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking.2
Some risk factors cannot be controlled, such as your age or family history. But you can take steps to lower your risk by changing the factors you can control.
Learn more about risk factors for heart disease and heart attack.