More young women are getting heart attacks — here’s why

(image courtesy of Christine Wayne)

On the morning of December 15, 2016, the 37-year-old Christine Wayne woke up tired and more dilapidated than usual. Although she had a cold that week, she thought she would feel better.

The Stamford, Connecticut, the wife remained home to work and rest, but decided to keep her dinner plans with a friend, even though she didn’t feel right.

“Suck it up. You can figure this out, it’ll be okay,” she said to herself.

While taking a shower, she suddenly had a cough that felt strange for her.

“It felt more like a surface-level cough—it felt deeper,” she said. “From there, everything was very slow motion. I was so tired with every movement. It was exhausting.”

Wayne stepped out of the shower, felt light headed and then vomited. She knew that something wasn’t right, but she didn’t know what to do.

She thought about the 9-1-1 call, but she was worried about causing a scene in her apartment, and wondered how much the co-pay for the ambulance would be. She thought maybe it was anxiety or there was something wrong with her lungs.

“Not once did I think heart attack,” Wayne said.

They ended up 9-1-1 to call, and an ambulance took her to the hospital. When she arrived, Wayne said that they began to feel warm.

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“When my memory stopped and then my heart stopped for the first time,” she said.

In the hospital, a team of doctors desperately tried to resuscitate her, but her heart stopped again.

“Between 7:04 7:20 [p.m.], they did not know whether I was going to make it,” she said.

Not only Wayne suffer a heart attack, but she went into cardiac arrest four times. Doctors two stents in her heart to open a blocked artery and she remained in the hospital for eight days with family and friends gathered around her, praying and wish her a speedy recovery.

“I have always thought about [a heart attack] as something way off in the future-as something that would happen with my parents, not me,” she said.

Why young women heart disease?

Heart disease is the number one killer in women and in the past few years, there is more awareness around the subject, in particular with initiatives such as the Go Red For Women.

Coronary heart disease is often thought of as something that affects middle-aged or older women, more young women than ever are in danger and they have no idea, say the experts.

“Heart disease is not even on the radar screen of young women,” said Dr. Holly S. Andersen, a cardiologist in New York City and director of education and outreach for the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute, and Scientific Advisor for the Women the Heart of the Alliance.

Andersen said that in women between the ages of 29 and 45, both heart disease and stroke are on the rise.

Although it is not clear why there is an increase, experts say it probably has a lot to do with the fact that the risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes are also more and more.

Most of the people are obese also have insulin resistance, a syndrome that leads to pre-diabetes, diabetes and heart disease, said Dr. Steven R. Gundry, cardiologist in Palm Springs, California.

Not surprisingly, an unhealthy diet plays a role, especially one that includes too much meat, sugar and processed, packaged foods.

Antibiotics in meat, pesticides, and gluten change everything in the body of microbiome and healthy gut bacteria and in turn can lead to heart disease. In fact, there is a clear link between environmental toxic substances, such as dioxins, Pcbs, pesticides and atherosclerosis, according to a 2011 study from Sweden.

“Women have learned that estrogen protects against heart disease, but that is simply not the case,” Gundry said.

Stress can also play a role in heart disease risk, and millennials, Generation Xers, and women are the most stressed, according to a study by the American Psychological Association.

Pregnancy and childbirth are also a lot of stress on the body, because women have extra blood volume and a higher risk of blood clots.

Another condition that is common in the postpartum period and occurs almost exclusively in women, spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD), whereby an artery ruptures and can lead to a heart attack, Andersen said.

Women who have high blood pressure during pregnancy, gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia, are all at an increased risk for heart disease later in life.

Know the signs.

The symptoms of a heart attack often look different in women than in men.

Although women often experience chest pain, 40 percent of the people who have a heart attack. Pain in the back, arms or jaw can also be signs.

Women may also be shortness of breath, indigestion, sweating, experience an overwhelming sense of doom, or just a different feeling.

“Most women know that something is wrong,” Andersen said.

Since most women are used to everyone is for themselves, they can brush off their symptoms as something else, neglect to call their doctors or go to the emergency room.

“All too often…women not a 9-1-1 call, they do not come into action. And they often have more damage than they should, or they die,” Andersen said. “Even women who believe they are having heart attacks are not as likely to act, and that is a mistake.”

What women need to know

Experts agree that when it comes to heart disease, prevention is the key because “80 percent of this disease is to prevent it,” Andersen said.

All women should keep up with their family history and talk with their doctor about their risk of heart attack. Screening tools like coronary calcium scanning and carotid intima media thickness (with restraint) test are available, although they are not covered by insurance.

Of course, a healthy diet, regular exercise, sleep and stress reduction are all important.

e future is still unknown. Her doctors are currently trying to find out why they had a heart attack, especially since they don’t have any of the traditional risk factors.

As she continues her journey to optimal health, Wayne is committed to raising awareness about heart disease in young women. She wants to motivate women to put their health first, and avoid talking yourself out of how they feel, even when they know in their gut something is wrong.

“It is ok to 9-1-1 call,” Wayne said. “If I don’t, I would have died in my apartment.”

Julie Relevant, is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the health care. She is also a mother of two. More information about Julie at


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