Yes…Young Women Can Have Heart Attacks!

Written by Linda Carroll

life_youngattackNot too long ago I was told a terrifying tale about a young woman and a heart attack. The 40-year-old woman arrived at the emergency room of her local hospital displaying a multitude of symptoms that made it clear that a heart attack was in progress – at least it was obvious to a nurse in the ER.

After hooking the woman up to medications to help deal with the attack, the nurse alerted other doctors to the case and then went home at the end of her shift figuring all was well. When the nurse returned to work the next day, she was shocked to discover that doctors in the ER had stopped the medications, told the woman she was simply having a panic attack and sent her home. The woman suffered major damage to her heart.

Unfortunately, many doctors don’t suspect a heart attack when they see a young woman with chest pain. And, while it’s true that heart attacks are more common among young men than young women, women are not exempt . Figures from the National Center for Health Statistics show that in 1998, approximately 11,000 women under the age of 45 were hospitalized for heart attacks.

When a heart attack strikes a young woman, she is likely to suffer debilitating damage or die. In a study that looked at gender differences among heart attack victims, researchers found that heart attacks were far more likely to be deadly if the victim was female. In fact, when Dr. Viola Vaccarino and her colleagues looked only at patients under age 50, they found that twice as many women as men died in the days following a heart attack.

Part of the explanation for this frightening statistic is that young women with heart attacks often get either no treatment or they receive delayed care. Sometimes women, and sometimes their doctors, miss the attack because they don’t realize that the symptoms of a heart attack may vary with the patient’s gender, says Vaccarino, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Medicine. Compared to men, during a heart attack women are much more likely to experience back pain, indigestion and nausea and/or vomiting, rather than chest pain, as their symptoms, according to an earlier study by Vaccarino.

And while the bigger teaching hospitals are beginning to catch on, it’s still not uncommon for doctors at smaller institutions to miss heart attacks in younger women, says Dr. Marianne Legato, founder and director of The Partnership for Women’s Health and a professor of clinical medicine at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. Legato recently reviewed the records for a young woman in her 20s who showed up at a hospital complaining of nausea and vomiting, as well as chest pain. The possibility that the woman might be having a heart attack never occurred to the doctors examining her. She was dead within 48 hours.

When Vaccarino and her colleagues looked at death rates from heart attacks in young people, they found that misdiagnosis and delays in medical care could only explain part of the discrepancy between men and women. This is an area that needs further research, she says.

But, while doctors are at a loss to explain why heart attacks occur in otherwise healthy young women, they have pinpointed a group who are at an elevated risk. Women who smoke, are obese, have diabetes and/or high blood pressure are more likely than others to have a heart attack, Legato says. “And diabetes is a much more important risk factor for women than men,” she adds. “Once you have it, your risk for [heart disease] is four to six times higher.”

Ultimately, women need to know the signs of a heart attack and demand proper care if they think they may be having one. If you have risk factors for a heart attack, no matter whether you are in your 20s or 30s or 40s, and you feel you are experiencing a heart attack, don’t allow the doctor to dismiss your symptoms as indigestion or anxiety. Tell them you want to be tested. If you don’t, the consequences could be deadly.

The following symptoms could signal heart ills:

  1. Angina (chest pain). Can also include back pain or deep aching and throbbing in the left or right bicep or forearm.
  2. Breathlessness. Also may include waking up having difficulty catching one’s breath.
  3. Clammy perspiration.
  4. Dizziness. Unexplained lightheadedness, even blackouts.
  5. Edema. Swelling, particularly of the ankles or lower legs.
  6. Fluttering. Rapid heartbeats.
  7. Gastric upset (or nausea).
  8. Heavy fullness. Also may include pressure-like chest pain between breasts and radiating to left arm or shoulder.

If you are experiencing these symptoms please do not wait, contact a doctor immediately for your own safety.

Sources: ACOG/Medical Tribune News Service

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349 Responses to “Yes…Young Women Can Have Heart Attacks!”

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  • Doris Beck Doris Beck says:

    None of us here on this site are doctors but what we tell each person is the same thing, you need to see a medical professional if you are having symptoms of a heart attach, regardless of your age or sex. However, having said that, a blood pressure of 190/110 is much, much too high and you need to see a doctor to get that under control before you do have a heart attack of stroke.

  • Doris Beck Doris Beck says:

    You are so right that panic attacks can feel very much like a heart attack. But the only way that you can know for sure that it isn’t a heart attack is to actually go to a doctor or emergency room and get yourself checked out.

  • arthi says:

    y im not getting any replies from here

  • arthi says:

    hi im arthi suffering from severe blood pressure of 190/110 .. Few days before i went to doctor and dey precribed termekind tablet . But i feel uneasy and unable to work.

  • arthi says:

    Hi im arthi, im having blood pressure of 190/110. i had slight chest pain ,is der any problem in my health

  • ara v javier says:

    i am ara 26 this august a mother of 2 kids,..i had suffer palpitation 1 month ago,..i went to the doctor and i undergone ecg,cardiac test even my b.p were all nomal,..then i went home,..then the next day i experienced again the same attact,..i felt so cold,..i was thinking im having a heart attack but i realized i dont have any chest pain only a palpitation and so many negative thoughts and fear,..i went to the doctor again and still no result,..then i did my own research i found out that all the symptoms that i felt even now is a panic attack,..panic attack is the same symptoms of heart attack but some of the panic attack dont feel,
    more like illution.heart attack are more like pain..

  • Doris Beck Doris Beck says:

    You need to get it checked out! There are too many women on this thread that didn’t realize it was a heart attack….

  • Brittany says:

    I am a 27 year old mother of one. Yesterday I experienced what I thought was a panic attack at first, but turned into something I’d never experienced before. I removed my bra in an attempt to relieve the chest tightness, then I thought I was going to be sick. I ended up on the bathroom floor with severe nausea and dizziness and a freezing cold sweat. I even removed my glasses Bc I was sure I was about to lose consciousness. After about 15 min I was well enough to get off the floor. But I never felt 100% again and ended up sleeping the rest of the day. I keep telling myself it was a panic attack, but I can’t shake the feeling that it was something much more serious. I have no insurance and can’t afford to go to the dr for something that turns out to be a panic attack. But I don’t want to make a foolish mistake that ends up leaving my child without a mom.

  • Susan says:

    I had a heart attack last week. I am a 46 year old slightly overweight very active female. No diabetes no family history no high cholesterol. If my friends had not drug me to the hospital with my chest pain and jaw pain, I would probably be dead. It can happen to anyone.

  • Michael Jantzen says:

    Hello Pam, are you able to see a doctor to check out where the pain is coming from?

  • Pam says:

    Am I having heart attack symptoms? I’m a 56 year old female. For the 2nd day in a row I’m experiencing sharp stabbing pain from between my shoulder blades to the center of my chest. It was worse today than yesterday. The pain has lessened but I still have a feeling of weight in my chest.

  • Ericka says:

    I have been having a constant ache in between my shoulder blades, in both arms, my neck, jaw, chest, and wrists. My gallbladder has been removed, so I know it’s not that. All of the symptoms come and go, except the middle back pain. It is AWLAYS THERE. I have been to two different cardiologist. I have had bloodwork, ekgs, ecgs, a stress echo, and wore a monitor for 24 hrs but the drs seem to find nothing. Heart disease does run in my family, and I am overweight by about 60lbs. Has anyone ever passed all these tests and still had a heart attack??

  • Monique says:

    Hi Jennifer (May 23rd) I had symptoms like you, chest xray was CLEAR, ECG clear, but kept me in hospital cos of fatigue and shortness of breath. Put me thru CT and found out I had BILATERAL PULMOARY EMBOLISM………I was in hospital for 12 days three Specialists said I could have had a stroke, heart attack or died if I wouldn’t have listened to my body .
    INSIST on a CT something doesn’t “gel” with your situation, don’t let them “fob” you off, it’s YOUR body and YOU know when something isn’t right.
    Because I initially ignored my symptoms and soldiered on,and I had them for a few weeks, I now have the right Ventricular of my heart stretched. It’s 5 weeks since I was diagnosed, am now on Warfarin they said the clots in my lungs are to numerous to count.
    Have to see the Lung Specialist next week and have another Ehco early Sept to see if right Ventricle is back to normal.
    Specialists said I will feel awful the first 3 month, which I do,the heart and lung are trying to repair themselves, and it will take 1-2years before I will feel REALLY well again.
    PLEASE get more tests done, all the best, will think of you, Monique

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi Jessica and Jennifer, it would really be unwise for anyone to do any diagnosis here. Your best chance for understanding what is happening is to see your doctor. If you are not satisfied with your own doctor’s conclusion get another opinion. Just because you are a young woman does not mean that you are immune to heart disease. Go get it checked and be persistent in understanding what the causes of your symptoms are.

  • Jennifer says:

    Hi, I am a bit concerned. I am 38 and lately I have been experiencing tightness in my chest and palpitations. I also have a lack of energy and some occasional dizziness. I do have acid reflux. A few weeks ago I was at work in the OR and was uncomfortable enough with chest and back pain to go get hooked up to a 12 point lead EKG in the ER.The strip and my heart rate were “normal” so the ER doc didn’t take labs or a chest x-ray and sent me back to work. Should I still be concerned. I just felt my heart “flutter”…

  • jessica says:

    Hi my name is Jessica. I’m 29 years old. I’ve been having severe chest pain fir a few days. It started on my left side and now it’s right on the center of my chest. I don’t have any arm pain but it hurts to bend over or to reach up for something. I also cannot make any sudden moves because it hurts. What could this be?

  • Shelley says:

    Dear Father God.

    Lord I lift up Amy to You at this time in her life, that You will heal her of this interruption in her life. In Jesus name amen

  • Amy says:

    I am 39, don’t smoke, drink, do not have diabetes and am not overweight. One week ago I had a heart attack: sudden crushing pain radiating down both arms. I called 911 in 5 minutes and did get taken to the ER. Everyone kept saying I must be having an anxiety attack. My labs proved me right and eventually got a couple stents. No one there could believe it. I thank God that he immediately impressed on my mind what was going on.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Yes Elvira, please consult medical help. That level of pain should not be ignored.

  • Elvira says:

    I am 32 and having really reay bad sharp pains under my arm pit and my breast (left side). I don’t know if I should go to the E.R? The pain has me on the floor.

  • Kim says:

    I’ve been reading these post and wonder what some turn outs have been. A couple days ago either middle of night or early morning I’ve had a pain almost seem when my heart would beat. Now 2 days later my left arm is numb and wrist is throbbing. No other systems. I do have mid asthma and decided to call and get a doc apt. Can you give me any thought to what might be going on?

  • Doris Beck D. Beck says:

    Yes Mary, it’s true that Jesus has the power to heal us! But if we are having a heart attack then we must get medical help asap.