If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or seek care at an emergency room.
About 800,000 Americans have a heart attack each year—and younger women account for nearly one-third of them, according to a study published in the journal Circulation that explored incidents of cardiac arrest among younger adults.
This alarming trend is also something we can confirm in Washington, D.C. One reason we think we’re seeing more younger women (between the ages of 35 and 55) experience heart attacks is their increase in cardiovascular risk factors, such as:
While young men also can experience heart attacks, this trend is developing in young women at a much higher rate. Aside from women possibly having more of the traditional risk factors, conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (a hormonal disorder that causes enlarged ovaries), premature menopause, and preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy) also might be increasing their risk. Let’s discuss what women can do to prevent heart disease, as well as when it’s time to see a doctor.
LISTEN: Dr. Bering discusses the rise in heart attacks among younger women in the Medical Intel podcast.
Ways to Prevent Heart Attacks
Younger people can help avoid heart attacks by making lifestyle modifications that prevent the development of heart disease risk factors. The lifestyle modifications I recommend the most include:
- Consume a healthy diet: The Mediterranean diet is one of the most effective and research-tested diets you can eat. Learn about the Mediterranean diet and what it consists of.
- Exercise regularly: Regular exercise is great for the heart, as it helps you maintain a healthy blood pressure and good cholesterol levels. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese is associated with significantly increased heart disease risk. By following a healthy diet and exercising regularly, you put yourself in the best situation to either lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.
- Manage stress: Stress can lead to inflammation in the body, which can increase heart disease risk, among other health concerns, such as cancer and abnormal memory loss. Make sure you speak to a primary care doctor or psychiatrist for help coping with stress.
- Get a good night's sleep: Getting seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep a night is associated with increased heart health, compared to people who get less than six hours.
Young people often have no known medical problems and feel that they’re considerably healthy. However, some risk factors for heart disease are silent. For example, many people with high blood pressure don’t have any symptoms and are diagnosed with it later in life. Annual checkups with your primary care doctor are an important way to ensure that you’re maintaining a healthy heart and not developing heart disease risk factors. These checkups may be the most successful strategy in combating heart disease.
Signs That It’s Time to See a Doctor
Aside from annual checkups with your doctor, you should immediately seek medical attention if you experience key warning signs of a heart attack—especially if you have a family history of heart disease or risk factors. These can include:
- Decreased energy
- Heartburn or acid reflux that doesn’t improve with simple treatments such as antacids
- Intractable nausea, or vomiting that’s difficult to control
- Significant shortness of breath
We saw one young woman who initially thought she was experiencing symptoms of acid reflux—but we identified that it was actually an early symptom of a heart attack. Through surgery, I was able to open up a blocked blood vessel that was in charge of supplying blood to her heart. She ended up returning home with minimal heart damage and continues to do well today. Had she not visited the hospital with her symptoms, she could have experienced a heart attack and a much worse outcome.
Symptoms of a #heartattack can seem like everyday conditions, such as #acidreflux. But seeing a doctor, especially when you have #heartdisease risk factors or a family history, is important and can save you from having a heart attack. https://bit.ly/32pYD2d via @MedStarWHCClick to Tweet
Expert Care at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute
We’re proud to care for the Washington, D.C., community at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center with passionate healthcare providers who focus on a variety of issues related to your cardiovascular health. We have expert doctors in both primary care and cardiology who work together to prevent and treat heart disease. All of the care we offer is patient-centered, meaning every care decision we make is made together with the patient.
As the number of young women experiencing heart attacks increases, it’s important that women adhere to lifestyles that help ensure they don’t develop one of the many risk factors for heart disease. Make sure to speak to a doctor if you have any questions about reducing your heart disease risk.