NOV 11, 2015 11:56 AM PST

Why Heart Attacks are More Deadly in Young Women

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Heart-related diseases are the number one killer of men and women in the US, but the statistics are even more dire if you happen to be a woman. The mortality rate doubles for women under the age of 55 hospitalized for a heart attack, compared to that of men. Studies suggest this may be due to women not getting medical help quickly enough. Surprisingly, a huge part in the delay is due to women not recognizing they're having a heart attack themselves!

Movies and television have engrained the symptoms of a heart attack in all of us. A middle-aged man complains of tingling in his left arm, followed by unbearable chest pains, and then he loses consciousness while clutching his chest. But this depiction is not representative for both the sexes.

Heart attacks for women can be less dramatic and the symptoms leading to the cardiac arrest can vary widely. Remarkably, some women who have experienced heart attacks reported no sign of chest pain or pressure. Instead, they describe "shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue," says Dr. Nieca Goldberg of NYU's Langone Medical Center. These vague and subtle symptoms mislead for women, and its consequences can be deadly.

The moral of the story? Warning signals for heart attacks in women can be innocuous and may seem completely unrelated to the heart. Don't dismiss any abnormal sensations and follow up with a medical professional right away for the best outcome.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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