Myth or fact? Men are more prone to heart attacks than women.
Myth. Despite what pop culture wants us to believe, heart attacks are just as common in women as they are in men. In fact, heart disease — which includes heart attacks — is the leading cause of death among women in the United States.
Though women older than 55 are more likely to have a heart attack, an increasing amount of younger women are also having them. This is primarily because of the increase in diseases such as obesity and diabetes in young women, which puts some at greater risk for heart problems.
According to recent research, women in their 30s, 40s and early 50s getting heart attacks increased by 10% within a 20-year period.
An even bigger problem? That same study also found that women who have heart attacks are less likely than men to be given drugs to treat heart disease or to undergo heart procedures that can open up clogged arteries.
Here’s why that is, what you need to know about how heart attacks and heart disease affect women and how to stay healthy.
Heart attack symptoms can be different in women
A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart gets cut off. This is usually due to cholesterol plaque buildup creating a blockage in an artery. It’s different from (but often gets confused with) sudden cardiac arrest, which is when an electrical problem in the heart causes it to stop pumping blood effectively.
Between 2013 and 2016, 3.3 million women in the United States had a heart attack.
The best-known and indeed most common symptom is chest pain. But that’s far from the only symptom.
Though anyone can experience out-of-the-ordinary heart attack symptoms, women are more likely to. This is what Dr. Kathleen Kearney, an interventional cardiologist at UW Medicine’s Heart Institute, likes to emphasize to her patients.
“Up to half of women won’t have chest pain, whereas around 30% of men presenting with a heart attack won’t describe chest pain,” she says.