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Though heart attack remains the leading cause of death among men and women, heart disease is often mistakenly thought of as a middle-aged man’s disease.
One person dies every 36 seconds from heart disease in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart disease kills about the same number of women as all forms of cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease and diabetes combined, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Yet, awareness of heart disease, particularly among young women, is on the decline, according to recent studies. A 2020 report from the AHA found that in 2009, 65 percent of women were aware that heart disease was a leading cause of death to women compared to 44 percent of women being aware in 2019.
The study also found disparities in awareness among women of color as compared to white women as well as women with lower income and education levels. Less than half of the women surveyed were able to identify the symptoms of heart disease.
Most heart attacks are caused by coronary artery disease, which occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries causing them to narrow and stiffen. A heart attack can occur when a piece of the plaque breaks off and blocks blood flow to the heart.
Men experience more traditional symptoms of a heart attack, such as crushing chest pain or pain radiating to the left arm.
Women tend to be different. Instead of crushing chest pain, women may experience chest discomfort that may feel like pressure, pain or fullness or even something as subtle as a bra feeling tighter than normal. Other symptoms of heart attack in women may include:
Women often chalk up the symptoms to the flu, acid reflux or normal aging. As a result, women tend to get care for heart attacks later, so they end up sicker with more complications.
Though a recent study indicated a slight decrease in heart attacks among older adults, it also found a sharp increase in younger women. The study examined heart attack patients from 1995 to 2014. At the start of the study women between the ages of 35 and 54 made up about 21 percent of heart attack patients. By the end of the study, that number jumped to 31 percent.
Experts suggest that risk factors — such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes — may also be increasing among younger women, putting them at higher risk for heart disease and heart attack.
To help prevent heart disease, consider:
Your heart is in good hands when you choose us for cardiovascular care. Learn more about our high-quality heart care.
Read this Healthy Driven Chicago article: Heart attack symptoms women can’t ignore
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