When you think of a heart attack victim, it’s very likely that an older man comes to mind. But the reality is that heart disease continues to be the most common cause of death among women. And according to new research, younger women in the U.S. are suffering heart attacks at a higher rate today compared with 20 years ago, reports the journal Circulation.
The reason for the increase in heart attacks among women younger than 55 isn’t exactly known. But researchers suggest that rising rates of heart disease risk factors—including high blood pressure and diabetes—among this population likely play a role.
Despite the disappointing news for women’s heart health, there’s a lot you can do to safeguard your ticker at any age:
Eat a healthy diet with foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium. Choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, fish, and low-fat dairy products.
Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, each week and do 2 or more days of muscle-strengthening exercises.
Don’t smoke; quit smoking if you do.
Visit your healthcare provider regularly for wellness exams.
Keep in mind that heart attack symptoms can be different for women than they are for men. For instance, in addition to chest pain, women are more likely to experience at least one of these other symptoms:
Shortness of breath
Back or jaw pain
Nausea and vomiting
Heavy pressure on the chest
Cold sweats unrelated to menopause
Dizziness or lightheadedness
Sudden tiredness (fatigue)
If you notice any of these heart attack signs, call 911 and get to an emergency room right away.