The risk for heart-related death is increasing in young adults ages 35 to 54, and the numbers are even more alarming for younger women. It is the number-one cause of death for both men and women in the United States, yet every year since 1984 more women have died of cardiovascular health problems than men, according to the American Heart Association.
"Although there has been a general decline in deaths caused by heart disease, the last decade has seen a steady increase among younger women ages 35 to 44. Women account for more than 50 percent of deaths due to heart disease," says Dr. Holly Andersen, the director of education and outreach for the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Dr. Andersen offers the following advice to women the following advice on how to stay healthy, know their risk factors, and get the best medical treatments to take better care of their hearts.
* Enjoy yourself. Eat right, attempt to get a good night's sleep, practice stress reduction, and have some fun -- all have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease.
* Know the warning signs of an attack. Women may not always experience the typical crushing chest pain that is associated with a heart attack. Many women have symptoms that include neck, shoulder and abdominal pain; some may also have nausea, vomiting, fatigue and shortness of breath, along with chest pain.
* Test for the silent attack. Some women feel no pain at all and experience what is known as a "silent heart attack." Silent heart attacks lead to long-term shortage of blood and oxygen flow to the heart. If you are a post-menopausal woman and have at least three risk factors for heart disease you should ask your doctor for a cardiac stress test to determine if you have experienced this type of attack and permanent damage.
* Know your risk factors. Your risk of having a heart attack greatly increases if you are obese/overweight, a smoker, have high cholesterol and/or diabetes. There are also several risk factors that are of particular importance to women:
o Smoking greatly increases the risk of heart attack for women under the age of 45. The combination of smoking and birth control pills increases a woman's risk by at least 20-fold.
o High C-Reactive Protein (CRP) levels are a marker of inflammation that has been shown to be an independent risk factor for cardiovascular risk. Ask your doctor to check your level with a simple blood test.
o Experiencing complications during pregnancy can be an indicator of future cardiovascular disease for moms. Women who have had preeclampsia, gestational diabetes or delivered low-birth-weight babies should aggressively manage all risk factors for heart disease.
o According to the American Heart Association, low-levels of good cholesterol (HDL) are a stronger predictor of heart disease death in women than in men over 65.
* Call 911. Anyone who thinks they are having a heart attack should dial 911 immediately. Emergency medical teams can begin to treat patients before they arrive at the hospital and save precious time that is often lost when patients try to drive themselves to the emergency room.
* Get an EKG. Once a woman does arrive in the emergency room it is important to ask for an EKG test or an enzyme blood test to check for a heart attack, since medical professionals may attribute a woman's symptoms to other health conditions such as indigestion.
NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center