- Even with regular exercise and no signs of heart problems, women and men under 50, can still have a heart attack.
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death of men and women in the US.
- Smoking, hypertension, obesity, family history of heart disease are the top risk factors of a heart disease.
In the U.S., heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
Dr. Sharonne Hayes, a cardiologist and founder of the Women’s Heart Clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota said, “It’s possible for people to do everything right and still have heart problems sneak up on them.”
Hayes said that heart attacks may be uncommon for premenopausal women but they do happen and that a recent study found that there’s a rising number of cases for heart attacks in women between 35 and 54.
Like the case of Jennifer Andrews. She suffered a massive heart attack while driving on a New Jersey highway when she was only 39 years old.
When she woke up after 4 days at the hospital, she was intubated and her doctors told her that one of her coronary arteries was 100% blocked.
She said, “I didn’t believe them. If it wasn’t for me waking up in the hospital with the tubes in my arm and the oxygen in my nose — and I could tell I had been intubated because my throat was hurting — I would have never believed it,” she said.
She did not believe that at her age then, she would have heart problems. Hayes may not have treated Andrews but she understands why Andrews got blindsided.
She said at Andrew’s age, her concerns would be the risk of having breast cancer or reproductive issues and not heart health.
The heart attack also happened two weeks after her annual checkup where all her bloodwork, heart rate and blood pressure readings came back normal. She also led a stress-free life and regularly exercised.
What she did not consider was that she was overweight, smoked a few cigarettes a day, and her family had a history of heart disease. In fact, her father died from heart problems.
This is Hayes area of research—women who have few or no risk factors and appear otherwise healthy but have a tear in a coronary artery wall or Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD).
What are the risk factors and symptoms?
Hayes research identifies the following:
1. High Blood pressure
2. Unhealthy cholesterol levels- Watch your salt, fat and cholesterol intake
4. Excess weight
5. Smoking – even just three or four cigarettes a day like Andrews
6. Family History of Heart Disease
Watch out for: Chest pain, pain in the neck, jaw, throat, abdomen or in the upper back between the shoulder blades.
The back pain that Andrews had weeks before her attack could have been a symptom but she said it was typical or normal for her and that she has been seeing a chiropractor for it.
A few years after the heart attack, Andrews now feels fine and watches her cholesterol, fat, and salt intake and has since quit smoking. Her follow-up care includes taking new medications and doctors’ visits.
Andrews is recovering well and feels grateful to those who saved her life. She says, “It was very eye-opening. I feel like ‘thank you’ isn’t enough. I don’t know what to say for them to understand how grateful I am.”
Hayes advises women under 50 who appear to have no risk factors but had SCAD or had heart attacks to see or talk to a doctor.