Heart Attacks Strike Young Women Harder Than Men

A young woman talks with her doctor
(Image credit: Kurhan/Shutterstock.com)

Women make up one-quarter of heart attack patients among people who are relatively young, but fare worse afterward than their male counterparts — women have longer hospital stays on average, and they are more likely than men to die in the hospital after a heart attack, according to a new study.

The researchers also found that over the past decade, heart attack hospitalization rates for younger patients (under age 55) have not declined as quickly as they have for patients in older age groups.

To look at trends in heart attacks among relatively young people, the researchers analyzed data from more than 230,000 hospitalizations for heart attacks in patients ages 30 to 54. The data was reported in a U.S. national database from 2001 to 2010.

They found that the number of hospitalizations for heart attacks among women increased from 28,681 (which means 56 per 100,000 people) in 2001, to 31,777 (61 per 100,000) in 2010.

Men's rate of hospitalization was much higher, but in contrast to the increase seen in women, men's hospitalizations for heart attacks decreased over the study period, from 87,084 (174 per 100,000) to 86,734 (171 per 100,000). [Beyond Vegetables and Exercise: 5 Ways to be Heart Healthy]

The researchers also found that women hospitalized after a heart attack had higher rates of dying in the hospital than men did. However, women's mortality rates decreased from 3.3 percent to 2.3 percent over the 10 years of the study, whereas men's mortality rates remained unchanged, at around 2 percent, according to the study published today (July 21) in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

In a previous study looking at people older than 65, the researchers found a 20 percent drop in hospitalization rates for heart attacks between 2001 and 2010. The new study shows that younger patients didn't experience the same decline in hospitalization rates.

"This trend suggests we need to raise awareness of the importance of controlling cardiovascular risk factors — like diabetes, high blood pressure and smoking — in younger patients," said study researcher Dr. Aakriti Gupta, an internal medicine resident at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

However, the researchers noted that because heart disease at younger ages is more strongly influenced by genetic factors, changes in lifestyle factors might not lower hospitalization rates as much as they have in older people.

Among all patients in the study, there were increases in the rates of medical conditions, including high blood pressure and diabetes. The researchers found that women with heart attacks were more likely than male patients to have other medical conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes and heart failure.

The findings suggest that younger women may benefit even more than men from aggressive efforts to control their risk factors for heart disease, which include early identification and treatment of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking and diabetes, the researchers said.

Email Bahar Gholipour. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

Bahar Gholipour
Staff Writer
Bahar Gholipour is a staff reporter for Live Science covering neuroscience, odd medical cases and all things health. She holds a Master of Science degree in neuroscience from the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris, and has done graduate-level work in science journalism at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She has worked as a research assistant at the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives at ENS.