More Women Are Having Heart Attacks. New Studies Reveal Why.

Mariam Rizkalla, Staff Writer

  Over the past four decades, medical professionals have emphatically improved and advanced their treatments of heart disease. Despite being the number-one killer in the United States and various other countries around the world, cardiovascular disease is no longer seen as an automatic death sentence due to our deeper understanding of it, which has paved the way for surgical advancements and more effective medications.

  Recent studies shed new light on a few troubling trends through examining heart attack hospitalization rates between 1995 and 2014. The trend that received the most attention was the increased risk on women ages 35-54. The findings, which were subsequently published in Circulation, were not the first to suggest this correlation, but they did give us a deeper insight on some of the factors that could potentially be causing it.

  While scientists have yet to find a concrete explanation on what exactly causes the higher risk in women, they are still able to offer us some possible interpretations and related factors that lead up to it, such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes.

  Through careful examination, study co-author and research instructor at UNC School of Medicine, Dr. Melissa Caughey, was able to link other risk factors like diabetes and obesity to women’s increased risk of cardiovascular illness. Another shocking finding of the study was that female patients were less likely to have previously received treatment for leading factors like stroke, hypertension and high cholesterol compared to their male counterparts

  Dr. Viola Vaccarino, MD, PhD, an epidemiologist at Emory University, published her findings in a commentary stating that the unnoticed problem has actually worsened since 1995.

   In her commentary, which was published along with the study, she also went on to blame prevention guidelines for underestimating risks for this particular age group, which, according to Dr. David Goff, is due to a difference in the experienced symptoms.

 Through his examination of the leading risk factors, Dr. Goff, director of Cardiovascular Sciences at the National Heart, Leung, and Blood Institute, discovered that women tend to experience heart attacks differently than men, and as a result, they are often misdiagnosed with other illnesses.

  In an interview with Health, Dr. Goff stated, “Traditionally, a heart attack is described as the man clutching his chest and suddenly falling out of his chair. But heart attacks are seldom that dramatic, especially for women.” Instead of experiencing these severe symptoms, Dr. Goff says that women are more likely to report nausea, back pain, sweating, dizziness, or lightheadedness.

  He continues, “When women present with these symptoms, the sad reality is that too often, the healthcare system doesn’t think about heart attacks first. Women might be told that it’s anxiety or it’s gastroesophageal reflux or some other problem, because physicians still don’t know to look for heart problems.”

  According to these studies, one out of every four women in the United States will die of heart disease, and 60 percent of women will experience major cardiovascular problems before they die.

  Given all of these flaws in the healthcare system, you might wonder if there is a nearby solution, and the answer to that question, according to the new Circulation study, is yes. While it is difficult to predict who will experience these illnesses, the study shows some astounding trends that reveal steps to prevention.

  These trends show that the decline in smoking rates over the past 50 years has, indeed, been a significant cause of the overall decline in heart disease risk among all age groups. Evidently, there seems to be an emphatically strong link between lifestyle choices and heart disease risk.

  A 2018 study in the medical journal Circulation discovered that while the overall risk still remains high in the United States, it had actually declined by 38 percent since 1990, thanks to advanced prevention methods. This reduced risk percentage was also found to be greater in other developed countries.

  Study co-author, Dr. Melissa Caughey, emphasizes the importance of lifestyle improvement and self-awareness, stating, “Younger adults, and women in particular, have been independently studied in cardiovascular research. It is now time to pay attention to this group to optimize prevention strategies and promote cardiovascular health among women.”

  Carissa Knoblauch (12), an aspiring healthcare professional, expressed her opinion on the issue, stating, “In many developed countries, and especially in the United States, people have unfortunately adopted an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle, and this is the core of all the increased disease risks we’re witnessing today. Those unhealthy lifestyle choices, if left unchanged, will cause disastrous outcomes on our health.”

  While it is a natural response to seek medical prevention techniques, our most powerful prevention strategies remain within our own hands. Cardiovascular illness may be the number-one killer in the United States, but we can defeat it by reversing some unhealthy choices, today.