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

Doctors also need to take young women’s heart health seriously, Michos noted.

“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,” she said. “I think both doctors and women clearly underestimate the 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.

More information

For more on women’s heart health, see Go Red For Women.

SOURCES: Erin Michos, MD, associate professor, medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore; Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, Juhi-Ash Integrative Health Center, New York City, and spokesperson, American Heart Association; European Heart Journal – Quality of Care and Clinical Outcomes, Feb. 10, 2021

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