Heart Attack Rates Increasing for Women

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine looked at national survey data of more than 4,000 men and women, ages 35 to 54, during two time periods: from 1988 through 1994 and from 1999 through 2004. While during both time periods, men had more heart attacks than women, the rates of heart attacks in men improved from 2.5 percent in the earlier period to 2.2 percent in the later time frame, but the women's rates increased from 0.7 percent to 1 percent.

Pre-menopausal women were thought to be protected from heart attacks and stroke because they still have sufficient amounts of estrogen after menopause. But when estrogen levels plunge, men and women have about equal risk. So what's the culprit?

Researchers of the study suspect that a rise in obesity, which is higher in middle-age women than in middle-age men, could undermine the natural benefit of estrogen.

Plus, according to the Mayo Clinic, more women die each year from heart disease than men, and women are six times as likely to die of heart disease than from breast cancer.

Know the Signs of a Heart Attack

The most common symptom of a heart attack in both men and women is some type of pain or pressure in the chest, but it's not always the most prominent indication of a heart attack, especially in women. Rather than chest discomfort, women are more likely to experience the following:

  • Neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Unusual fatigue

Reducing Your Risk for Heart Disease

There are several things you can do to reduce your risk for heart disease, including:

  • Exercise-Aim to get between 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, most days of the week. If you can't get all the exercise done at one time, break up your activities into several 10 to 15 minute sessions.

  • Maintain a healthy weight-A body mass index of 25 or higher can raise your risk of heart disease. Losing just 10 to 15 pounds can help lower your blood pressure and help prevent diabetes, both of which increase your risk for heart disease.

  • Quit smoking-Smoking is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than in men.

  • Eat healthy-Maintain a diet that's low in saturated fat, cholesterol and salt.