Heart Attacks In Women: Causes And Risk Factors

Heart attack called myocardial infarction in medical terms,  kills more people in the United States and throughout the world than any other disease.

The causes and risk factors that cause a heart attack in the general population cover men, women, children, teenagers and young adults.

There are certain causes and risk factors, which make the children and the young adults more prone to a heart attack.

Similarly, there are certain causes and risk factors that are specifically responsible for heart attacks in women.

Taking into account the statistics for the last thirty-two years, more women have died of a heart attack than men have.

Heart disease kills one in three women each year in the Unites States. If you narrow it down to time, heart disease kills one woman each minute in the United States.

Against that, breast cancer kills 1 in 31 women each year. Yet, you will find that there is more awareness about breast cancer than of a heart disease in the United States.

A heart attack is caused by the blockage of a coronary artery or its branches. This results in an inadequate supply of blood to the heart muscle wall. The blockage can even be complete in which case the blood supply will be totally cut off to the part of muscle wall supplied by the affected artery. Being deprived of blood and oxygen, the heart tissue dies and forms an infarct.

Atherosclerosis or coronary artery disease is responsible for 80% of the cases of blockages. Coronary artery spasm is responsible for the rest of the cases.

In atherosclerosis, the cholesterol, which is a wax-like substance, sticks to the inner wall of the arteries, especially when the person has elevated cholesterol levels.

Risk Factors That Cause Heart Attacks In Women

Although the traditional and established causes of heart attack are the same in men, women, and young adults in their 20s and 30s, there are certain risk factors that make women more prone than men in developing a heart attack.

Menopause

Low levels of estrogen after menopause put the woman at a greater risk of developing a heart disease. An overall increase in heart attacks is seen about 10 years after the onset of menopause.

Estrogen is believed to have a healthy effect on the inner walls of the arteries making them more flexible. This causes a healthy circulation in the body and the heart. A healthy circulation accounts for a healthy heart.

Other effects of menopause include a rise in LDL cholesterol levels and blood pressure too tends to go up. Both these factors potential increase risks for a heart disease.

Pregnancy

Pregnancy puts an additional stress on the heart. During pregnancy, the blood volume goes up by 30 to 50 percent. The amount of blood pumped by the heart during each heartbeat also increases by 30 to 50 percent. This extra workload on the heart puts the woman to a great risk of a heart attack.

Secondly, the enlarged uterus can press on the neighboring veins and slow down blood circulation. This increases the chances of clot formation, which potentially increases the risk of a heart attack.

Lack of physical activity

In general, women tend to be less active than men are. This is why women tend to be more overweight or obese than men. This is another risk factor, which increases the chances of a heart attack in women.

Diabetes

The incidence of diabetes has risen considerably both in men and women, young and old. According to the American Diabetes Association, 9.3 million women have diabetes in the United States.

Diabetes poses a significantly higher risk of a heart attack in women than in men. In men with diabetes, the risk of a heart attack is double while in diabetic women it is triple. 

In premenopausal women with diabetes, the risk of a heart attack increases because diabetes cancels out the protective effect of estrogen on the heart.

Women with diabetes are five times more likely to suffer from heart problems, than their non-diabetic counterparts.

Again, women with diabetes are twice as likely to suffer a second heart attack and four times more likely to suffer from heart complications than women without diabetes are.

Stress and depression

Women are twice as likely to suffer from stress and depression than men, possibly due to hormonal fluctuations.

Their threshold to bear the stress out is also low as compared to men. The adverse effect on the heart due to stress and depression is seen more in women than men.

Depression also makes it more difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle such as a healthy diet and a regular exercise program. This can invite other heart attack risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Smoking

  • Cigarette smoking is a major cause of death due to heart disease in the United States.
  • Smoking poses a 25 percent higher risk of a heart attack in women than in men.
  • Smoking can double the risk of death due to sudden cardiac arrest in women.
  • In women who smoke and take birth control pills, the risk is even greater.
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