Women Heart Attack
“The number of young women who die from coronary heart disease each year is roughly comparable to the number of women who die of breast cancer in this age group,” said Judith Lichtman, Ph.
In a pilot study, Lichtman and colleagues studied 24 women (55 and younger) who had heart attacks and were admitted to one of two
Nearly 90 percent of the women in the study had the typical heart attack symptom of chest pain, with 7.4 being the average rating of their chest pain on a scale of one to 10 (with 10 being the most painful).
“This means that they were experiencing significant chest pain,” said Lichtman, an assistant professor in the
Researchers said they were surprised that only 42 percent, or four in 10, of the women who came into the hospital thought something was wrong with their hearts. “Many of them told us that they thought they had indigestion or heartburn,” Lichtman said.
The women also reported other less typical symptoms:
- 58 percent said they had pain in the jaw or shoulder
- 38 percent reported sweating
- 29 percent experienced nausea
- 29 percent reported shortness of breath
- 21 percent said they had indigestion or heartburn
- 8 percent felt weakness or fatigue
Only about half of the women went to an emergency room within the first hour of their symptoms.
“When we asked the women why they delayed going to the hospital, half of those who waited more than an hour said they were afraid their symptoms weren’t real; about 42 percent attributed their symptoms to something else; about 17 percent said they were embarrassed by their symptoms; and 8 percent admitted that they feared the symptoms or experienced denial that it could be heart disease,” Lichtman said.
The researchers also found that about 88 percent of the women had a family history (a parent or sibling) with heart disease. Even though 71 percent said their health was fair/poor, less than half considered themselves at risk for heart disease.
The researchers said doctors may be failing to link many young women’s symptoms to heart disease. Prior to their heart attacks, 38 percent saw their primary providers for some or all of their symptoms; yet, only 56 percent of those women said their doctors told them their symptoms were heart-related.
“It seems that many young women are not connecting their symptoms with heart disease, even more are simply unaware of the possibility that they are at risk for a heart attack,” Lichtman said. “We have to get the messages across to young women that they are at risk for a heart attack, they might experience not only typical but also atypical symptoms, and they need to be aware of their own risk factors, including family history. Prevention and modification of risk factors is important for young women.”
To avoid possible permanent damage to the heart muscle, young women, like their older counterparts, must seek prompt care if they have symptoms. They also must be persistent with their health providers — especially if they have risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking, inactivity, diabetes and family history, Lichtman said.
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