When most people imagine the typical victim of a heart attack they usually imagine either someone who is very old or someone who is very overweight. The risk among people who do not fit those descriptions, however, is rising. Between 2010 and 2014 nearly one third of all heart attack related hospital admissions in the United States were attributed to patients under the age of 55. This is considered to be unusually young to be suffering from serious cardiovascular issues. Within this younger group, the largest increase was observed in women.

“When we looked at the incidence — meaning the number of patients who had a heart attack each year, divided by the total population of patients in the group — we saw that there was actually a decrease in incidence among young men, and that sort of paralleled with what we see in the older populations, but we saw there’s a slight increase for the young women,” said Melissa Caughey, senior author of the recent study that uncovered the increase in heart attacks among young women. “That was surprising, because it’s going against the other trends in other demographic groups. There have been previous studies from the same ARIC surveillance that have shown a decline, and they were predominantly older populations or older patients. … The national trends are also showing the same thing, that there’s a decline in the incidence of heart attack…The takeaway message is that an increasing percentage of heart attacks is occurring among younger patients, even though our population is aging, and the biggest increase seems to be among young women.”

While alarming, the study did have limitations. It involved data from a limited area and did not necessarily note all risk factors for heart attacks. Whether or not the women were obese, for example, was not recorded.

Nearly 800,000 American suffer true heart attacks, or acute myocardial infarctions, every year. Heart attacks most often occur as a result of heart disease which remains the leading cause of death in the United States. When it comes to cardiovascular disease-related deaths, heart attacks and strokes count for nearly 85 percent of all such deaths worldwide. The rise in heart attacks among young women, however, may also be attributed in part to the fact that women are more likely to experience subtle heart attack symptoms rather than the classic numbness in the left arm. Such subtle symptoms can include lightheadedness and pain in the back, neck or jaw.

The rising number of heart-related incidents serve as a good reminder that it is always better to be safe than sorry. After all, with heart issues, deciding that going to the hospital is too much of a bother could be the last thing you do.

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