Heart Attacks in Young Women

February 16, 2009 8:30:34 AM PST
Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the Unites States. Nearly twice as many women in the United States die of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases as from all forms of cancer, including breast cancer. Heart disease among women becomes more common after menopause, but young women can still find themselves at risk. According to the National Coalition of Women with Heart Disease, about 9,000 women under age 45 have heart attacks each year. Because young women are part of a demographic not usually associated with heart attacks, they face certain obstacles in recognizing their symptoms and receiving proper treatment. In many cases, women who experience a heart attack who are younger than age 55 report confusion in diagnosis because they think they are too young to experience a heart attack, and their symptoms are atypical, lasting longer than a day. This combination of confusion and denial can lead young women to chalk their symptoms up to other conditions and subsequently delay seeking treatment. This creates a dangerous situation for a woman who actually is experiencing a heart attack. FEMALE SYMPTOMS: Research by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicated that women often experience different physical symptoms of heart attack than men. These symptoms can be felt as long as a month or more before the actual cardiac event. In a study of 515 women, 95 percent said they knew something was different a month or more before experiencing a heart attack. The most common symptoms were fatigue (70.6 percent), sleep disturbance (47.8 percent) and shortness of breath (42.1 percent). Fewer than 30 percent of women reported experiencing chest pain or discomfort prior to their heart attack, and even though 43 percent reported having no chest pain during the attack, most doctors continue to consider chest pain the most important symptom in both women and men. Women in the study also reported experiencing indigestion and anxiety prior to having a heart attack. During the actual heart attack, the most common symptoms reported by women were shortness of breath and weakness.

RISK FACTORS: Traditional uncontrollable risk factors for heart attack in both men and women include increased age, heredity and a previous heart attack or stroke. Risk factors that can be modified or treated include smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes. Other factors that contribute to the risk of heart disease, especially in women, include high triglyceride levels, excessive alcohol intake and response to stress. Gender is the greatest risk factor specific to men.