A new study published this week in Circulation found that heart attacks are becoming increasingly common in young people – especially women. Until now, heart disease has been considered an affliction reserved primarily for older men, but that’s about to change. Although total heart attacks in the U.S. have decreased in recent years, new research has discovered that they are increasingly affecting young people.
And women are the primary victims.
20 years ago, 21% of hospitalizations due to heart attacks were attributed to young women. Today, that number has skyrocketed to 31% – nearly a 50% increase. According to Dr. Sameer Arora, cardiology fellow at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and the study’s lead author,
Cardiac disease is sometimes considered an old man’s disease, but the trajectory of heart attacks among young people is going the wrong way. It’s actually going up for young women. This is concerning. It tells us we need to focus more attention on this population.”
According to the study, there could be several reasons for the shift, including obesity and adverse health behaviors. Along with this increase came a rise in the history of hypertension (high blood pressure often brought on by stress) and diabetes, indicating a general decline in healthy behaviors. Our diet and lifestyle is literally killing us.
Traditionally, coronary artery disease is seen as a man’s disease, so women who come to the emergency department with chest pain might not be seen as high-risk,” says Arora. “Also, the presentation of heart attack is different in men and women. Women are more likely to present with atypical symptoms compared to men, and their heart attack is more likely to be missed.”
Among other factors, it seems to be the opinion of the research team that the resources and diagnoses for young women are often lacking when it comes to cardiovascular health. For years, women have not been proportionately represented in studies on heart disease, despite the fact that young women were more likely than young men to have hypertension, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease.
According to the CDC, the leading cause of death for women is heart disease, followed closely by cancer. And the two are not mutually exclusive. Those who practice healthy heart habits have a 38% lower risk of developing cancer. Obesity and diabetes, both results of poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle, are risk factors for both heart disease and cancer.
But when it comes to heart-healthy habits, women are generally being overlooked. According the study, only half of young patients believed they were at risk for heart disease, despite a high level of risk factors. And because heart attacks present differently by gender, heart attacks in women are more likely to be missed altogether.
This is unacceptable.
Dr. Ileana L. Piña, a cardiologist at Montefiore Weiler Hospital, called the study “another wake-up call to physicians, especially male physicians” regarding prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. “The number one killer of women is not breast cancer or uterine cancer; the number one killer of women is heart disease,” she said. “And until we pay attention to this, these kinds of figures are going to keep coming up.”
And while it’s important that doctors and researchers dedicate the appropriate attention to women regarding heart disease, it’s even more important that we, as women, take care of our bodies to prevent these kinds of issues in the first place.
But it isn’t always easy.
Young women today are under an increasing amount of stress as they strive to have meaningful careers while raising a family and managing a household. However, neglecting our own bodies can prevent us from taking care of our other responsibilities. Piña elaborates:
[Women will] do anything for their families, but they often leave themselves for last. We need to teach women to change their health attitude and take care of themselves. If they don’t do well, their families won’t do well either.”
Those familiar with TTAC know that our mission is not about treating symptoms; it’s about discovering the root cause of disease and taking steps to prevent it. Stress, poor diet, lack of exercise, and even emotional issues are all risk factors for heart disease and cancer. After all, our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, whom we have received from God. We need to take care of them.
There are several steps you can take right now to reduce your risk of heart disease and live a happy, healthy life, like reducing stress, getting more exercise, and overhauling your diet to include more fresh veggies and less trans and polyunsaturated fats. In my home, we stay away from anything that isn’t 100% natural and 100% organic and take part in family activities that keep us active and strong.
When it comes to heart health, women are no less susceptible than men, but we can make the right choices to keep our bodies and minds happy, healthy, and ready to take on any challenge.