Carolyn Thomas, a 51-year-old PR professional, wasn’t feeling well one day last spring. With nausea, extreme fatigue and cold sweats, she thought she had the flu or some other virus and did what a lot of women do when they get sick—she powered through.
When she was feeling worse more than a week later, she went to her primary care doctor and got some alarming news.
It wasn’t minor. She was having a heart attack, specifically a spontaneous coronary arterial dissection (SCAD), a type of cardiac event that predominantly strikes younger women with no known risk-factors. The average onset age for SCAD is 42.
Unfortunately, her story isn’t that unusual.
A recent study, published in the journal Circulation, examined the incidence of heart attacks in women ages 35-55, finding:
- From 1995-1999, this population accounted for 21 percent of reported heart attacks among all women.
- From 2010-2014, that number increased to 31 percent of reported heart attacks among women.
That’s an increase of nearly a third in just 10 to 15 years–especially disconcerting because the incidence of heart attacks among men in the same age group stayed consistent.
Heart disease in women often goes undetected or undiagnosed. Then, when a cardiac event finally strikes, it is much more lethal:
- Women are significantly more likely than men to die of their first heart attack.
- Women who survive a first heart attack are twice as likely as men to experience a second heart attack within six years.
- Younger women have worse heart attack outcomes than men of a similar age.
- Ages younger than 45 is a known predictor of 30-day survival for men, but not for women.
Know the Symptoms
Women tend to have different symptoms than men. According to WomensHealth.gov, women experience:
- Chest pain or pressure, squeezing or fullness
- Upper-body discomfort often perceived in the neck or jaw
- Shortness of breath
- Light-headedness or sudden dizziness
- Cold sweats
- Unusual or unexplainable fatigue
Because the symptoms of a heart attack are different for women than men, women often attribute their symptoms to something far less serious. But even when younger women experiencing heart attack symptoms do seek medical treatment, doctors themselves have struggled to get to an accurate and timely diagnosis.
Women are less likely to experience dramatic chest pains. Instead, they are more likely to experience fatigue, nausea, dizziness/lightheadedness and vomiting – symptoms that can cause doctors to mistakenly diagnose women with other conditions, thus delaying treatment.
Pay attention to the signals your body is giving you: 95 percent of women who have had heart attacks say they knew “something wasn’t right” in the weeks immediately preceding a heart attack.
Prevention is Key
The first thing all women over 30 should be doing is getting screened for heart disease.
The American Heart Association recommends getting screened every two years for high blood pressure and cholesterol blood glucose levels.
If your blood pressure is consistently higher than 120/80, you are overweight, or if you identify a problem with cholesterol or blood glucose levels (indicating possible diabetes), you should get checked out more frequently.
If you’re at risk, or if you’re experiencing heart attack symptoms, it’s time to take a closer look at your heart health.
You can start with an EKG in your doctor’s office. You can also ask your doctor about getting referred to a cardiologist for a coronary calcium scan, which detects plaque building up in your arteries that can lead to a heart attack. A CT angiogram may also help detect early signs of heart disease in time to prevent a heart attack.
Medical Technology Advancements
Fortunately, new technology can play an important role in the fight to track and diagnose cardiac events earlier and faster. Advances artificial intelligence and secure telecommunications are helping to make cardiac monitoring and diagnosis easier, less invasive, more convenient and more economical for patients and doctors alike.
At InfoBionic, our MoMe Kardia platform includes a monitoring device that weighs just ounces, is smaller than a cell phone, and is able to transmit every single heartbeat to your doctor in near real time. This makes diagnosis much faster, more affordable, and more accurate than ever before. The MoMe® Kardia, created by InfoBionic, takes advantage of artificial intelligence, deep learning and advanced algorithms to detect heart arrythmias – even intermittent ones that are often missed with an EKG at the doctor’s office.
Preventative Care is Key
Once doctors are able to identify a potentially dangerous arrhythmia, they can get you on lifesaving medications to control cholesterol and blood pressure, relieve the strain on your heart muscle and keep your heart beating on rhythm. If you need a pacemaker to keep your heartbeat regulated, doctors can do that, too. But first, you need to be diagnosed correctly.
Patients can then make lifestyle adjustments, get on appropriate medications to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, and get a pacemaker implanted to correct dangerous arrhythmias.