Do you think heart attacks only affect older people? A new study disproves the popular assumption that older men are at higher risk, as researchers find younger women are at an increased risk of having adverse outcomes and rehospitalization within a year after a heart attack.

"Many people think heart attacks only occur in middle-aged or older men, which is not true. People need to be aware that heart attacks occur in young women as well and they can present with atypical symptoms. After experiencing a heart attack, young women will be more likely to need a 360-level approach," Mitsuaki Sawano, the lead author of the study, said in a news release.

The research paper was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Heart disease in women

The leading cause of death in women in the United States is heart disease. Over 60 million women suffer some form of heart disease such as:

  • Coronary artery disease: It is the most common form of heart disease, which is caused by plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries supplying blood to the heart and other parts of the body. Although premenopausal women have a lower incidence of heart attacks due to protection from estrogen hormone, the risk of coronary artery disease increases after menopause due to hormonal changes.
  • Irregular heartbeats: It is called arrhythmia, a condition characterized by heartbeats that are too fast or too slow.
  • Heart failure: It happens when the heart is too weak to pump enough blood to support other organs.

For the study, researchers evaluated details of heart attacks in young women and men who are between the ages of 18 and 55.

According to the findings, the most common reason for women to return to the hospital after a heart attack is a second heart attack and chest pain.

All-cause hospitalization within one year of discharge was 34.8% for women and 23% for men. However, non-cardiac hospitalizations showed the most significant sex disparity, 145.8 per 1,000 person-years in women when compared to 69.6 per 1,000 persons in men.

Researchers also found that younger women tend to wait longer to get treatment for heart ailments. They are likely to arrive at a hospital more than six hours after the symptoms begin.

Experts believe women tend to delay the treatment due to several reasons such as caregiving responsibility and lack of awareness about their cardiovascular risks.

"There are many reasons women are more likely to delay seeking care for heart attack symptoms when compared to men. Gender-based roles such as caregiving and household responsibilities tend to make women more likely to delay care," Dr. Anais Hausvater, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Heart in New York, told Medical New Today.

"The findings demonstrate the need for continued efforts to optimize secondary preventive strategies to reduce coronary-related hospitalizations but also highlight the need for further research into the causes and mechanisms of non-cardiac hospitalization, especially given the significant sex disparity," the researchers said.

Strategies to reduce the risk of heart attack

  1. Maintain a healthy weight
  2. Get regular exercise
  3. Quit smoking and limit alcohol consumption
  4. Get adequate sleep
  5. Keep blood pressure and blood sugar under control
  6. Stick to a healthy diet that includes fruits, whole grains and vegetables