If you were asked “What’s the number 1 killer of women in the United States?” what would your answer be? Some might assume the answer to be “cancer”, while others might think “car accidents” or other unfortunate events. The truth is, the number 1 thing to kill women in the United States is heart disease.
Every year, more women die due to heart attacks than men do. There is a great risk of heart disease in women, despite the myriad of valuable research for heart disease among men.
Coronary artery disease, which causes a major added risk of heart attacks, can occur in men as many as 20 years earlier than in women. Although this is true, it creates the misconception that only postmenstrual women should worry about their heart health . However, young women can also have heart attacks.
Being a buildup of plaque on the blood vessel walls, coronary artery disease develops over time as more plaque grows and causes blood to become sticky. As the plaque builds, other factors such as inflammatory cells, lipoproteins, and calcium travel through the vessels and mix with the blood. Together, this combination can narrow the blood vessels, eventually blocking blood to the heart. If the plaque, or a blood clot, ruptures it then results in a heart attack.
As young women in their early 30s and 40s appear to have an increasing amount of heart attacks, it can have a quickly fatal outcome in younger women than older.
The type of heart attack commonly found in young women is known as SCAD. Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) is a form of heart attacks where instead of plaque building blocking blood flow to the heart, it’s a tear in the artery. SCAD is responsible for 40% of heart attacks that occur in women under the age of 50.
Women don’t have the same signs of heart attacks that men do. Unlike the chest pain in men, women tend to see these symptoms:
- Pain or discomfort in the arms
- Heaviness or squeezing on the chest
- Shortness of breath
Some women who experienced heart attack symptoms state they “thought they had the flu”.
It’s clear that there’s a large risk of heart attacks and other heart conditions. This makes it critical that women seek medical physicals aside from their gynecologist, which is a priority in most women’s health. Seeing a standard physician or even cardiologist in the event of a women experiencing heart attack symptoms could prevent a heart attack from occurring. It’s a misconception that women should only focus on their gynecologist appointments, when it fact, they should be aware of their risk of heart attacks as well in order to prevent a fatal future ahead.