In the past 20 years, heart attacks among younger women have increased 27 percent, according to a new study published in the journal Circulation, TIME reported. This brings the total number of young women, defined as women ages 35-54, having heart attacks up to a third of all heart attacks experienced in the U.S. The study found that overall health has declined among women over the past two decades. Poor health raises the risk of heart-related problems for women, making more research about heart disease in women vital for prevention.
"We believe an integrated, multifaceted approach is needed to promote effective primordial, primary, and secondary prevention strategies among at-risk women. To understand further the distinct cardiovascular risk profile and to define treatment pathways in women, clinical trials could be designed specifically for women," the study reported. While this might seem obvious, a 2010 paper, also published in Circulation, found that most cardiovascular clinical trials are focused on men. Because men and women experience different symptoms during a cardiac episode, this lack of information leaves women more vulnerable.
"Women account for at least half of the deaths in the affected patient populations studied — a proportion that is strikingly higher than their representation in the trials supporting the guidelines — thereby underscoring the importance of having adequate representation of women in clinical trials to solidify the evidence base supporting practice guidelines," the paper explained. "Without this evidence, we cannot fully understand and address the implications of potential sex-specific responses to cardiovascular therapies and improve cardiovascular outcomes in women."
What's troubling about the new findings is that younger women who experience heart attacks may not receive the same level of care as men. "Young women had a lower probability of receiving lipid-lowering therapies, nonaspirin antiplatelets, and beta blockers," the study reported. Women are also less likely receive heart surgery.
Working to raise awareness about the risk of heart disease and stroke in women is the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women campaign. Signs and symptoms of heart attack in women include: "Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort. Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness," Go Red for Women noted on its website. "Women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain."
Family history and race also factor into to your heart attack risk. Things like smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, living a sedentary lifestyle, and diabetes can increase your risk. The good news is that the American Heart Association noted that you can lower your risk by 80 percent with lifestyle changes, including not smoking, increasing aerobic exercise, and managing your stress and sleep.
If you smoke, have diabetes, or have a family history of heart disease, talk to your doctor about having your blood pressure and blood cholesterol checked regularly. If your doctor won't listen — the New York Times reported on several studies that revealed women's health concerns are often dismissed by doctors — find one who will. #TheMoreYouKnow