Kimberly Calhoun was helping a neighbor last fall when she started feeling a tightness in her chest and jaw pain.
The 49-year-old went to the local emergency room to get checked out, where doctors told her she had suffered a heart attack.
Calhoun, from Atlanta, Georgia, was shocked.
She was active, fit and had no prior history of cardiovascular disease, reported WSB-TV.
Once thought to primarily afflict men, a growing swell of studies is showing an increase in the rates in heart disease and heart attacks among women, with a particularly sharp rise in women under 50.
Cardiologists told DailyMail.com that there are a number of factors at play including rising rates of hypertension and diabetes, coupled with building stress for women who balance work and being the primary homemaker.
Kimberly Calhoun, 49 (right, with one of her daughters), from Atlanta, Georgia, suffered a heart attack last fall even though she was active and had no history of heart disease
A recent study found hospitalization rates from heart attacks for women increased 10 percent from 1995 to 2014 while rates for men remained ‘fairly stable’. Pictured: Calhoun, right
Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in every country including the US.
However, treatment of heart disease has improved due to better medications and an increased comprehension of how the disease progresses.
Additionally, a 2018 study in JAMA Cardiology found that the overall rate of heart disease in the US has fallen 38 percent since 1990.
But doctors have seen a worrying trend when it comes to young women.
A recent study found that from 1995 to 2014, hospitalization rates for heart attacks increased 10 percent while the rate for men remained ‘fairly stable’.
Around 44 million US women suffer from heart disease and about 90 percent have at least one or more risk factors, according to the American Heart Association.
Additionally, since 1985, heart attack survival has improved in women, but death rates from heart disease have surpassed those of men, the AHA says.
Dr Suzanne Steinbaum, director of women’s cardiovascular prevention, health and wellness at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, theorizes that the increase in deaths from heart disease occurred as more women began working.
‘Women are living differently than the generation before,’ she told DailyMail.com.
‘A lot of women are in the workforce and responsible for the family. It’s not as it was before when most women were stay-at-home moms.’
Dr Malissa Wood, co-director of the Corrigan Women’s Heart Health Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, agrees and says this change is causing women to have more stress heart attacks.
‘All I have to do is look at my clinic schedule,’ she told DailyMail.com. ‘More women are working outside of home and they don’t bring with them the same equality of support at home that men do when they work.’
Cardiologists blame rising rates of hypertension and diabetes and added stress as women balance work and home life. Pictured: Calhoun, left, with her husband
A 2018 study in Circulation found that rates of hypertension and diabetes have increased among young women, particularly black women.
‘We’ve found that 50 percent of black women by age 20 or older have some form of heart disease,’ said Dr Steinbaum.
‘In this group, there’s a greater risk of hypertension, and diabetes and obesity are more prevalent. These three major risk factors are the most likely implicated.’
Another factor women need to be aware of: pregnancy.
Mothers who suffer complications including pre-eclampsia, characterized by dangerously high blood pressure, or gestational diabetes have an elevated risk of heart disease.
‘Doctors weren’t aware that complications during pregnancy increased the risk [of heart disease] so we’ve been trying to beat the drum on that one,’ said Dr Wood.
When women are pregnant, there is an increase in blood volume, the amount of blood pumped out by the heart and an increase in heart rate, which can put stress on the cardiovascular muscles.
‘Women have a propensity, 10 years after giving birth, to develop diabetes or hypertension,’ Dr Steinbaum said.
Approximately 80 percent of the time, heart disease is preventable with lifestyle changes and being checked out.
However, women often have different symptoms than men such as nausea, neck pain, back pain and dizziness, although it’s unclear as to why.
Experts say that many women dismiss these symptoms as anxiety or acid reflux, and oftentimes doctors don’t even suspect heart problems to be the cause.
‘Know your family history, know if you have traditional risk factors,’ said Dr Wood. ‘If women get a symptom like discomfort in the arms, back or jaw pain, get checked out.’
Dr Steinbaum says that when it comes to educating young women on the risks, the focus should be on prevention and making sure women are never diagnosed rather than waiting until it’s too late and then trying to treat it.
‘I always say that if you have a heart, you’re at risk for heart disease,’ she said. ‘The cornerstone for all of this is lifestyle choices. It comes down to how we eat and how we move.’
This includes a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein as well as regular exercise.