More young U.S. women are dying from heart disease, obesity being the main culprit

Posted on February 22, 2021

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Source: U.S. News & World Report

A new study shows that deaths from heart disease in young women have increased in the past decade due to obesity, type 2 diabetes and diseases of pregnancy, such as preeclampsia and preterm delivery.

Although heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, cancer has been the main cause of death among young women in the United States. For the study, researchers used death certificates to compare deaths from cancer with deaths from heart disease in women under age 65 between 1999 and 2018.

Over that time, death rates for cancer and heart disease were 53 and 24 people per 100,000, respectively. The most common cause of heart disease death was heart failure (56%), while respiratory and lung cancer (23%) was the main cause of cancer death.

Although cancer deaths declined throughout the study period, heart disease death rates fell initially and then increased again between 2010 and 2018, the researchers found.

The death gap between cancer and heart disease decreased from 33 to 23 per 100,000 per year, the researchers noted.

The report was published Feb. 10 in the European Heart Journal – Quality of Care and Clinical Outcomes.

Younger women have to advocate for their own health. They need to know their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and they need to make sure they are getting treatment for these and other risk factors for heart disease.

Women who've had a history of preeclampsia or gestational diabetes or preterm delivery are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Many women don't realize that a history of preeclampsia makes them more vulnerable to heart disease a decade after their pregnancy.

Also, women who go through menopause early, before age 45, are at increased risk of heart disease.

Doctors also need to take young women's heart health seriously. There's still this misconception that women are at lower risk, especially if they're before menopause. But this isn't necessarily true -- lower risk doesn't mean no risk.

Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, from the Juhi-Ash Integrative Health Center in New York City and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association, said that increased stress may be driving obesity and other factors linked with the increase in heart disease in younger women.

"Stress is leading to an increase in risk factors, such as diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure," said Steinbaum, who wasn't part of the study. "Women are not able to take care of themselves -- they're last on the list, and what this results in is what we know and have talked about for many years, which is women get heart disease."

She said that progress has been made in taking women's heart health seriously, but there is still a long way to go.

"There are definite disparities in care, there's an unconscious bias, which exists for all women and more specifically for women of color," Steinbaum said. "There's research that shows women who go into the emergency room have a delay in their treatment by as much as 30%. Women who present with heart attacks are less likely to receive lifesaving treatments and medications. And we know that women who see women doctors are more likely to do better."

Women need to advocate for themselves, Steinbaum stressed.

"I'm afraid that not all doctors have the knowledge base and the wherewithal to really understand what to do with women when these [heart] risk factors exist," she said.