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Why heart disease in young women is on the rise—and warning signs you need to know

Lankenau Medical Center August 14, 2019 Heart Health

Heart disease kills more U.S. women than all forms of cancer combined. And it’s not just older women who are at risk. Heart attacks and heart disease deaths are on the rise in younger women. Three out of 10 heart attacks in women now occur in those younger than 55.

“This rise is strongly tied to increases in cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes,” says Katie Hawthorne, MD, a cardiologist at Lankenau Heart Institute, part of Main Line Health. “We’re seeing these risk factors come into play earlier in life.”

Three out of 10 heart attacks in women now occur in those younger than 55.

With heart disease in young women, such risks often go undetected and unmanaged until a serious problem occurs. “Women tend to put their families first—and their own health last,” Dr. Hawthorne says. “Many put off seeing a doctor for too long.”

Preventing a heart attack

“The good news is that 80 percent of heart attacks are preventable,” says Dr. Hawthorne. Here’s what you can do to take good care of your heart:

Know the warning signs

As with men, the most common symptom of a heart attack in women is chest discomfort. “Many women don’t describe it as chest pain, however,” says Dr. Hawthorne. “They’ll refer to it as chest tightness or pressure.”

Other symptoms include:

  • Arm, back, neck, jaw or upper abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Lightheadedness

On average, women wait longer than men to seek help for a heart attack. This delay in treatment may lead to more extensive heart damage. Avoid making that mistake: If you are experiencing symptoms that don’t feel normal, listen to your body and call 911.

At the Lankenau Heart Institute, we know that not all hearts are created equal. Our cardiac experts understand the unique heart health needs of women, and we’re proud to feature a team of 13 female cardiologists.

But don’t wait for an emergency to think about your heart health. “I would much rather see a patient for a preventive visit than in the hospital,” Dr. Hawthorne says.

Be sure to read up on heart health in your 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond.

Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.