Younger Women Often Miss Warning Signs of Heart Attack

Most women 55 or younger don't recognize warning signs of a heart attack, according to a study reported in Washington, D.C., last week during the American Heart Association’s 8th Scientific Forum on Quality of Care and Outcomes Research in Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke. While this group represents only a small percentage of all hospitalized heart disease patients, it is still significant at more than 40,000 hospitalizations nationwide annually, and heart diseases are among the leading causes of death for its members.

"The number of young women who die from coronary heart disease each year is roughly comparable to the number of women who die of breast cancer in this age group," Judith Lichtman, Ph.D., lead author of the study, said in a report on the findings that is posted on AHA's Web site, www.americanheart.org. "Studies have shown that young women with heart disease are twice as likely to die in the hospital as similarly aged men. While these statistics are startling, relatively little is known about the clinical presentation, care, or outcomes of young women with heart disease."

The pilot study involved 24 women who were admitted to two Connecticut hospitals after having a heart attack. Nearly 90 percent of them had the typical pre-attack symptom of chest pain, and most said it was significant pain, but just 42 percent of them came to a hospital because they thought something was wrong with their heart. "Many of them told us that they thought they had indigestion or heartburn," Lichtman said. The researchers found about 88 percent of the women had a family history of heart disease and 71 percent said their health was fair/poor, yet under half considered themselves at risk for heart disease.

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