Dr. Meredith Maxwell
When you think of a heart attack victim, it’s very likely that an older man comes to mind. The reality, however, is that heart disease continues to be the most common cause of death among women. And, according to new research reported in the journal Circulation, younger women in the U.S. are suffering heart attacks at a higher rate today compared with 20 years ago.
The heart of the matter
The reason for the increase in heart attacks among women younger than 55 isn’t exactly known. But researchers suggest that rising rates of heart disease risk factors among this population—including high blood pressure and diabetes—likely play a role.
Despite the disappointing news for women’s heart health, there’s a lot you can do to safeguard your ticker at any age:
- Eat a healthy diet with foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat and sodium. Choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, fish and low-fat dairy products.
- Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, each week and do two or more days of muscle-strengthening exercises.
- Don’t smoke.
Be sure to visit your health care provider regularly for wellness exams.
Women’s warning signs
Keep in mind that heart attack symptoms can be different for women than they are for men. For instance, women may have no chest pain at all, and are more likely to experience at least one or more of these other symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Back or jaw pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Heavy pressure on the chest
- Cold sweats (unrelated to menopause)
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Sudden fatigue
If you notice any of these heart attack signs, call 911 and get to an emergency room right away.