Alarming Study Says Heart Attacks Are on the Rise Among Younger Women

"There has always been a misconception that this is just a man’s disease."

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We often think of heart attacks as incidents that predominantly afflict elderly men. But the truth is that heart attacks can happen at any age, and, according to a new study published in the journal Circulation, the risk is on the rise for young women.

Researchers analyzed hospital admissions for heart attacks within the US between 1995 and 1999 and 2010 and 2014 and found there was an increase of 21 percent to 31 percent among young women, compared with 30 percent to 33 percent among young men (classified as those aged 35 to 54). According to the study, "compared to young men, young women admitted to hospitals for heart attacks were more likely to be black, have high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, and other medical conditions that raise the risk of having a heart attack."

"The greater percentage of heart attacks among younger patients is alarming," Melissa Caughey, a cardiovascular epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill and co-author of the study, told Today.com. "And that's especially true in light of the fact that the population is aging."

The study involved over 5,000 women with no pre-existing heart conditions, who wore accelerometers for four to seven days to measure their activity levels and whose cardiovascular health was evaluated for almost five years. Unsurprisingly, those who maintained an active lifestyle had a lower risk of heart attack than their sedentary counterparts. Specifically, every hour spent not sitting was associated with a 12 percent lower risk of any cardiovascular disease and a 26 percent lower risk of heart disease in women who were 63 to 97 years of age. Results also found that people who spread out their activity throughout the day also faced a lower risk of heart disease that those who channeled that time into one concentrated period.

The study also found that, in comparison to their male counterparts, women were less likely to receive guideline-recommended medications and therapy in response to heart attacks.

"This is a very important study," said Dr. Erin Michos, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology and associate director of the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Maryland. "The main message to women is you shouldn't think you're too young for a heart attack. There has always been a misconception that this is just a man's disease. And that leads to women being underdiagnosed and undertreated."

Indeed, every year on February 2nd, some women wear red in honor of an annual campaign by the American Heart Association to help raise awareness about heart disease among women. At the moment, heart disease continues to be the number one killer among women in America, claiming the lives of approximately 500,000 women a year. And yet, studies show that only around half of women are aware of its dangers.

"The number one thing that is going to kill and disable women is cardiovascular disease," said Dr. Elizabeth Piccione, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a cardiologist with the UPMC Magee-Womens Heart Program. "One of the things we can take away from this study is that we are not aggressively treating women when we identify cardiovascular risk factors."

In particular, she noted that when a woman comes into a doctor's office with high blood pressure, she is often dismissed as being "anxious," whereas the same issue is taken much more seriously when it comes to men. It's a cultural problem that was well-documented in a recent New York Times article, in which science writer Laurie Edwards wrote that even though she has a "a rare and painful genetic respiratory disorder called primary ciliary dyskinesia," she was repeatedly told by doctors that she was "suffering from nothing more than stress" and that it was "all in [her] head."

As such, it's crucial that we realize women are at serious risk for heart attacks, and take preventative measures. For more on this, check out this Nurse's Viral Tweet On How Heart Attack Symptoms Are Different for Women.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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