Heart attacks can affect people of any age. And young women are twice as likely as men to die from them. A heart attack occurs when blood flow decreases or ceases entirely. This can occur if the arteries that supply blood to the heart become constricted due to a buildup of fat, cholesterol, or other substances. According to the American Heart Association, a heart attack occurs in the United States every 40 seconds.
Heart attack symptoms may include:
- Chest discomfort or discomfort
- Insufficiency of breath
- Experiencing a cold sweat
- Pain in your arms, back, neck, jaw, or abdomen
Women are more likely to experience non-typical heart attack symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and back or jaw pain. According to a 2013 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, many young women who survived heart attacks did not experience chest pain.
Heart Attacks In Young Individuals
While it is true that the risk of heart attack increases with age, young people are not immune to heart attacks. Heart attacks can occur at any age for the following reasons:
- Hypertension and high cholesterol
- Unhealthy choices in lifestyle
In the United States, fifty percent of the population has at least one of the top three risk factors: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. These conditions are associated with the younger onset of heart disease. Obesity occurs in approximately one in six children ages 2 to 19 years old.
Here are the accounts of three women in their twenties and thirties who suffered heart attacks.
Heart Attacks In The 20s
In her late 20s, Eve Walker experienced a heart attack. This is her tale.
44-year-old Eve Walker had a heart attack at age 28.
I was 12 years old when my sister, Sugar, died unexpectedly at a party. She was 16 years old.
Early findings pointed to heart disease, which I did not learn about until I was an adult because there was no complete autopsy. My family never discussed the event. It completely altered my life, but for years we continued in silence.
I began experiencing heart disease symptoms sixteen years later, although I did not recognize them at the time. I first observed that I was unable to walk uphill without feeling out of breath. I was unable to comprehend it. Dancing my entire life, I maintained a healthy weight and a regular exercise regimen.
So I went to my doctor and told him, “I believe I have adult asthma.” Therefore, they conducted tests, which were negative, and I left thinking, “I need to get in better shape.” And shortly thereafter, I began to feel dizzy at work and my legs began to feel like tree trunks. They were so heavy that walking was difficult.
I felt so ill that I went directly from the office to the emergency room. One of the nurses asked me if I was taking any medications and then gave me aspirin. A few days (and many aspirins) later, I was too exhausted to climb a flight of my home’s stairs. I turned around and thought, “My mother’s house has no stairs, so I’ll go there instead.”
The following day, I suffered a heart attack.
I distinctly recall the occurrence. I felt a sharp pain in my leg while watching the first season finale of American Idol at a neighbor’s house. At first, I believed it was a mosquito bite, but then the pain began to travel up my left side.
I realized I was suffering a heart attack when the pain reached my jaw. Two miles away, my neighbor put me in her car and rushed me to the hospital.
A cardiac catheterization was performed on me one day after my admission. They diagnosed me with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition in which an enlarged heart muscle hinders the body’s ability to pump blood.
Following my discharge, I experienced depression and developed insomnia. I was terrified that I would die in my sleep after learning that I must take medication every day for the rest of my life. Nobody ever informs you that this is your new life, your new normal.
Eventually, however, I adapted. Prayer assisted. I’ve always been a spiritual person, and being around others who shared my beliefs helped me recognize that I had a mission and a destiny.
I became a member of the American Heart Association (AHA) and began educating women about heart disease. I take advantage of every opportunity to inspire others. Every day I wake up, I’m like, “I’m here!” I want to assist individuals in navigating their lives without letting a diagnosis deter them. It will not deter me.
Heart Attacks In The 30s
Here are Kara Burns’ and Rolanda Perkins’ biographies. Each woman suffered a heart attack in her 30s.
At age 39, Kara Burns, age 41, had a heart attack.
As a former cardiology nurse, I was well-versed in the symptoms of a heart attack. In contrast, this was the last thing on my mind when I experienced sudden chest pain one morning in 2013.
A typical Saturday had passed. I sat on the bed with my husband and three-month-old child, drinking coffee and watching the news. Looking back, I experienced all the classic symptoms: dizziness, nausea, and chest pain that spread to my back. I was aware that something was wrong and that I needed to get to the hospital, but I did not believe I was having a heart attack.
I was about to enter my vehicle when I turned to my husband and said, “I won’t make it.”
He then called an ambulance, which arrived approximately two minutes later. The firefighters also arrived; they rearranged the furniture in my living room as the EMTs transported me to the ambulance. They seized me, and we rushed to the hospital. My husband was driving my Toyota Highlander behind the ambulance. Later, he informed me, “I had no idea your car could reach 95 mph on the highway.” I had no idea what our speed was.
At the hospital, I was immediately taken to the emergency room. As I was an emotional wreck, I was heavily sedated. I only recall fragments of the next twenty-four hours. I recall awakening and seeing my mother, then awakening and asking where the infant was.
I spent five days in the hospital and some time researching what had transpired.
The medical professionals stated, “I’ve only ever seen one of these in my career” or “I’ve read about something similar, but I’ve never seen it.”
Later, I discovered that I had suffered spontaneous coronary artery dissection, which occurs when a tear forms in a blood vessel. The tests also revealed that I had fibromuscular dysplasia, a condition characterized by abnormal cell growth in the artery walls.
It was frustrating, as I had never smoked and had no family history of lung cancer. And I could no longer do things I once could, such as carry my infant up the stairs. I kept asking myself, “What did I do to bring about this?”
However, time heals all wounds. I am finally gaining the courage to tell my story. I began attending the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and joined the WomenHeart organization. Years ago, I refused to discuss it, but now I do so freely.
Rolanda Perkins, 50, Heart Attack at the age of 39
In the week leading up to my heart attack, there were many things on my mind, but my symptoms were not one of them.
At the time, I was extremely stressed. I was working the midnight shift at my job, a hotline for child abuse, while simultaneously planning a surprise party for my sister. I did not sleep well, and I internalized a great deal of this pressure.
A week before the party, I began to experience severe headaches. I self-medicated with Excedrin and dismissed the headache as insignificant. I believed I was exhausted, and that it would pass once things settled down.
Sunday, the day after the party, I had a heart attack. I was sweeping the floor when I suddenly felt severe pain in my chest. I had never experienced anything similar before. I suspected it was intense heartburn. I recall thinking, “Tomorrow, I’ll deal with it.” That didn’t happen. The pain was so severe that it woke me up at approximately 3:30 a.m., and a friend drove me to the hospital.
The tests revealed that I had a heart attack upon arrival. Angioplasty is a procedure in which a small tube is inserted into the artery to help prop it open.
After my discharge, I felt isolated and bewildered. No one I knew had ever had a heart attack at my age; not even my healthcare provider gave me the support I required. That was a difficult time for me, but I knew I had survived for a purpose.
So I began volunteering. I met with health organizations for women. In Nashville, Tennessee, I eventually founded a chapter of WomenHeart-Nashville Music City. Here, women who have had heart attacks can support one another through their diagnoses.
I believe there is a dearth of resources for others in my position, and I wish to rectify this. I even switched healthcare providers, and I’m much happier with the assistance I’m receiving now. I continue to tell everyone, “You know your own body. If something is wrong, pay attention.”
How To Reduce Your Risk
You can reduce your risk of having a heart attack by taking measures like
- Monitoring your blood pressure for any deviations
- Managing effectively any health conditions (such as obesity and diabetes) that may increase your risk for heart disease
- Quitting smoking
- Eating healthfully and managing cholesterol
- Keeping your stress levels under control
- Limiting alcohol consumption
A Brief Overview
Heart attacks can occur at any age, despite their association with older adults. Many people in the United States have health conditions (such as obesity and hypertension) that increase the risk of a heart attack in their 20s and 30s.
If the signs of a heart attack are subtle, they can be easy to overlook. Therefore, it is essential to educate yourself on the symptoms and warning signs of a heart attack, especially if you have any risk factors. And if you experience any symptoms of a heart attack, you must call 911 immediately.
- Do you have any heart health stories or experiences to share?
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