You Are Not Too Young to Have a Heart Attack
Donít ignore the symptoms at any age. Research shows women too often delay getting help when symptoms first appear.
Women are generally protected from heart attack until their estrogen levels decline after menopause. But the key word here is “generally.” More than 15,000 women under age 55 die from heart disease every year.
Because heart attack is unexpected at a young age, women commonly ignore the symptoms or delay getting help. In interviews with women ages 30 to 55 who were hospitalized with heart attack, researchers heard the following reasons:
- They delayed seeking care due to work or family responsibilities.
- They did not associate their symptoms with heart attack.
- They did not think they were at risk for heart attack.
- They were afraid they would be embarrassed by the false alarm, if they were not having a heart attack.
Unfortunately, older women experience the same issues, as well.
“Women of all ages tend to ignore their symptoms, either because they don’t believe it could happen to them, or because they put the families and other responsibilities first,” says cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD, director of Cleveland Clinic’s Women’s Cardiovascular Center.
Physicians can be skeptical, too
It’s not always the patient’s fault. In this study, some medical personnel had a hard time believing a young woman’s symptoms could be caused by a heart attack. As a result, some of the women who sought care were not treated promptly, worked up thoroughly or diagnosed correctly.
Could it happen to you?
Most heart attacks do not occur out of the blue. These victims had a strong family history of heart disease and one or more risk factors themselves, such as diabetes, hypertension or smoking. Yet many did not seek regular preventive care that could have avoided a heart attack.
“Any risk factors you have will increase your risk of heart attack exponentially. Keeping these risk factors under control is critical to lowering your risk,” says Dr. Cho. “If you have a family history of heart disease, you should have a baseline cholesterol screening around age 20. If you have no risk factors, you can wait five years to be rechecked. If you have any risk factors for heart disease, you should see your doctor every year.”