More young women are having heart attacks, unaware of the threat they face

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A new study that examined more than 500,000 heart attack patients admitted to Florida hospitals between 1991 and 2000 said women are more likely to survive a heart attack if they're treated by a female doctor – Aug 6, 2018

More young women are having heart attacks, a new report suggests.

The study, published in the journal Circulation on Tuesday, found heart attack cases among young people at hospitals in the U.S. rose from 27 per cent between the years of 1995 to 1999 to 32 per cent in 2010 to 2014, CNN reported. There was a larger increase among women.

The study found younger women made up 31 per cent of hospitalizations for heart attacks, an increase of 21 per cent since the 90s.

These numbers worry researchers, especially since these hospitalizations involved women between the ages of 35 to 54.

“The takeaway message is that an increasing percentage of heart attacks is occurring among younger patients, even though our population is aging, and the biggest increase seems to be among young women,” Melissa Caughey, senior author of the study, said in a statement.

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READ MORE: Heart disease in women is under-diagnosed, under-treated and under-researched: Heart and Stroke report

Cindy Yip, director of heart health at the Heart & Stroke Foundation, told Global News this trend is similar in Canada.

“Based on Heart & Stroke analysis of Canadian hospitalization data, between 2007 and 2016, 19 per cent increase in hospitalizations for heart attacks were women aged between 30 to 39.”

Why young women?

Yip said there is ongoing research to figure out why so many young women, in particular, are suffering from heart attacks.

“Change in lifestyle, diet, and roles can be contributing factors,” she explained. “Also, younger women may not be aware or dismissed the signs of a heart attack, because they do not typically expect to have a heart attack at a young age.”

Some women may not recognize the signs of a heart attack and dismiss it as heartburn.

“In fact, our 2018 Heart & Stroke survey of 2,000 women showed women are still vastly under-aware of the threat they face from heart disease.”

Barriers for women

Other research from the foundation has found women, in general, are under-researched, under-diagnosed and under-treated as well as under-supported.

READ MORE: Stroke in young Canadians is on the rise, Heart & Stroke warns. Here’s why

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The foundation found heart disease clinical research mostly focuses on men, even though men and women have different experiences when it comes to heart disease.

Yip explained men typically develop heart disease in their major coronary arteries, while women tend to develop it in their smaller arteries.

“The angiogram images the major arteries and typically misses microvascular (small artery) disease,” she continued. “Women’s physiology differs from men. There are differences in size, electrical activity, heart rate, and blood pressure and the structure of the blood vessels.”

Diagnostics and treatment methods need to address the differences between men and women’s hearts, she said, so that women can be diagnosed and treated as effectively as men.

How women can protect themselves

A recent story of a Florida mom who had a heart attack at the age of 44, highlights the importance of being aware of the risks related to heart health, even if you are young and healthy.

Shawn Sherlock told when she was making breakfast for her sons one morning, her jaw started to ache and she felt pain down her left arm.

“I thought, this could not be a heart attack,” Sherlock told the site. “I am too young and healthy.”

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Sherlock went to the hospital. “Within a few hours, I was in surgery and getting two stents to save my life,”

READ MORE: Women more likely to survive heart attacks if treated by a female doctor: study

Yip said the best thing young women can do to protect themselves is to be aware of their risks. Some risks include high blood pressure, smoking, excessive drinking, poor eating habits, and an inactive lifestyle.

“But the responsibility for women’s heart health must be shared more broadly,” she said.

“Research must be accelerated and health-care systems need to catch up with new knowledge and must incorporate it into best practice and guidelines to provide better, safer care for women. I think awareness is the key to prevention and protection of women’s heart health.”

— With files from Dani-Elle Dubé and Allison Vuchnich

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