Heart Attacks Hit Middle-Aged Women
Heart attack risk is rising in U.S. women -- decades earlier than you might expect. Find out why, and what women can do about it.
Heart Attack Hazard: Missed Diagnosis continued...
Then in 2009, a Canadian study of 305 men and women showed that both sexes
were equally likely to report chest discomfort and other typical heart attack
The issue still isn't settled. "But we’re pretty much coming around to
realizing the symptoms can be similar," Rita Redberg, MD, MSc, director of
women's cardiovascular services at the University of California, San Francisco,
The bottom line, experts say, is that women should tell doctors about all of
A bigger problem is that women are less likely to think they're having a
heart attack and seek care, Redberg says.
Take Rench, now 52, for example. Since her first heart attack, she has had
two others, yet still failed to recognize the symptoms when they first
"I was doing aerobics when I felt a pain in my chest and thought I had just
pulled a muscle," she says of her second attack. When she had her third heart
attack, which occurred in 2009, "I was cleaning house and I felt butterflies in
my stomach, flutters in my chest. But I continued cleaning for hours," she
says. It wasn't until that night, around 9 p.m., that Rench finally went to the
If you think you may be having a heart attack, act right away, Daviglus
says. "If you have pain, breathlessness, or other symptoms, call 911," she
says. "Women tend to dismiss pain, saying, 'This will pass. It's probably
And although Rench drove herself to the hospital when she had her first
heart attack, don't do that yourself. Call 911 instead; this is no time to get
behind the wheel.
Heart Attack Hazard: Stress
Stress may also be driving up the heart attack rate in middle-aged women.
But maybe not in the way you think.
Think of stress as a tipping point -- one that tilts away from healthy
self-care. "Stress is the last drop that fills the glass of water," Daviglus
says. "By itself, I don't believe stress can cause a heart attack, but it does
mean self-care goes to the bottom of the list. Trips to the gym, and healthy,
home-cooked meals take backstage. And women may not take the time to get
regular checkups" if they're too stressed to tend to themselves, she says.