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Heart Attacks Becoming More Common Among Younger Women

Everyone knows that heart attack risk increases with age, and that men are more susceptible to cardiovascular disease than women. Except that a recent report published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, found that younger women ages 35 to 54 are changing that statistic at an alarming rate.

Our family practice doctors in Delray Beach want to make you aware of this growing risk, and offer suggestions on what you can do about it.

 

The study

The study examined the medical records of nearly 30,000 people ages 35-74 who were hospitalized for a heart attack between 1995 and 2014. Over the study period, nearly a third of those experiencing a heart attack fell into the “young” category, and the majority of those were female.

Researchers found that women ages 35 to 54 accounted for 31 percent of hospitalizations for heart attacks, an increase from the 21 percent just nine years earlier. Over the same period, heart attacks decreased for younger men.

Also, among younger people hospitalized for heart attacks, 71 percent of the women had a history of high blood pressure, as opposed to 64 percent of the men.

 

“Women now, compared to younger women generations before them, are less healthy,” study co-author Melissa Caughey, told Time magazine. Caughey is a cardiovascular epidemiologist and instructor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School  of Medicine. “It’s probably reflective of poorer health in general.”

 

Suspected causes

Dr. Sreenivas Gudimetia, a cardiologist with Texas Health Fort Worth and Texas Health Physicians Group, told Texas public radio that part of the problem stems from the growing problem of obesity.

“Obesity leads to diabetes and hypertension [high blood pressure],” he said. “There was a British Medical Journal study which showed that hypertension raised the risk of a heart attack in women 83 percent more than in men. Type 2 diabetes mellitus raised the risk of a heart attack in women 47 percent more than in men.”

Dr. Gudimetia also echoed other experts, who pointed out that heart attack symptoms often present differently in women than in men. The classic symptoms in men are pain up and down the arm and chest pain. Women are more likely to experience shortness of breath and fatigue.

In addition, women are more likely than men to face such risk factors as poverty and stress. Stress can affect heart health because the brain can’t tell the difference between physical and mental stress, Elizabeth Piccione told The Washington Post. Piccione is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a cardiologist with UPMC Magee-Women’s Heart Program.

Both kinds of stress can cause a spike in the hormones adrenaline and cortisol and a rise in heart rate and blood pressure.

 

Prevention

Piccione recommended that women report feelings of anxiety and stress to their doctors.

“People shouldn’t feel there’s a stigma to admitting feeling anxiety,” she told The Post. “Women should not feel embarrassed or afraid to talk openly with their health-care provider that their mind is racing all the time, that they can’t relax, or they feel hopelessness.”

Such activities as meditation and practicing mindfulness help reduce stress, decrease your heart rate and high blood pressure. Exercise—whether the vigorous aerobic type or just regular brisk walking—is also helpful in stress reduction, weight control, and lowering the inflammation associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD). And a diet emphasizing fresh foods, lean proteins, and nuts has also been shown to reduce the incidence of CVD.

 

The important thing to remember is that CVD can be prevented with the right diet, exercise, lifestyle modifications, and medications. We’re here to help, so don’t hesitate to share any concerns you may have with us.

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