Heart disease is often thought of as a man’s disease, but the truth is that it is the number one killer of both men and women, and a recent study published in the Journal of Women's Health found that women under the age of 55 are more likely to suffer an acute myocardial infarction (AMI), heart attack, and die within 30 days.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia and Providence Health Care Research Institute in Vancouver, BC tracked hospitalization and mortality rates among men and women who had suffered a heart attack between 2000 and 2009. In each year of the study, the research team noticed a 1.7 percent increase in the number of women hospitalized due to heart attack. The number of women killed as the result of a heart attack also increased steadily throughout the study.

"These findings highlight the need for more aggressive strategies to reduce the incidence of AMI and improve outcomes after AMI in younger women," says Dr. Susan G. Kornstein, Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Women's Health in a press release. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), approximately 43 million women in the United States are suffering from heart disease. When oxygen rich blood is unable to flow freely to and from the heart, a person is in serious danger of having a heart attack. Cholesterol and fatty deposits known as plaque can narrow coronary arteries, which in turn restricts blood flow to the muscles.

Signs and symptoms of a heart attack are different in men and women which often lead to a dangerous misunderstanding. For example, women usually associate common signs of an impending heart attack such as chest discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea and lightheadedness with more run of the mill ailments including acid reflux, the flu, or aging. Women are more likely to downplay these symptoms because they expect that a heart attack would be more severe.

“Although men and women can experience chest pressure that feels like an elephant sitting across the chest, women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure,” said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, medical director for the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women's Health at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, speaking to the AHA. “Instead they may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue.”

Source: Singer J, Lee M, Gao, M, Thompson C, Kopec J, Humphries K, Izadnegahdar M. “Do Younger Women Fare Worse? Sex Differences in Acute Myocardial Infarction Hospitalization and Early Mortality Rates Over Ten Years.” Journal of Women's Health. 2013.