March 24, 2019

HEALTHNUT | Rise of Heart Attacks in Young Women

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Felicite Tomlinson, sister of former One Direction member Louis Tomlinson, died suddenly on March 13th at only 18 years old from a suspected heart attack – a reality being “increasingly recognized in young women”, according to Professor Simon Redwood, a consultant cardiologist at London Bridge Hospital. And Felicite isn’t the only one. Former Miss Teen Universe Lotte van der Zee also recently passed at age 19 from a heart attack.

CNN reports a rise in heart attacks among young women based on a recently published study from the Journal Circulation. The study analyzes heart attack-related admissions of young patients into US hospitals, finding the largest increase to be in young women, rising from 21% to 31%, over the course of five years.

A myocardial infarction (a.k.a. heart attack) occurs when blood flow to the heart unexpectedly and suddenly becomes blocked. Because the blood can’t get through, the heart stops receiving oxygen and begins dying. Nearly 800,000 Americans have a heart attack each year, according to the CDC. The cause: cardiovascular heart disease, the leading cause of death in the US.

So why is the leading cause of death of middle-aged men increasingly affecting young women?

The study found the increase in young women having heart attacks happened with women more likely to have “a history of hypertension, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and stroke”. The women were also more often black and non-smokers. The study is not without limitations: the data used only medical records, neglecting to include information relating to obesity, a known risk factor for heart attack. The high correlation between diabetes and hypertension, two precursors of obesity, and women having heart attacks suggest the increasing rate of young women having heart attacks is a result of the increasing rate of obesity in the United States. Furthermore, the high rate of black women having heart attacks may be a connection to the higher rates of low income among the black population, resulting in little access to nutritious foods.

But what about Felicite and Lotte —two seemingly healthy young women with no preexisting signs of heart disease cursed with an unexpected death? Dr. Redwood explains that the causes of heart attacks in young people include: clotting abnormalities, a spontaneous split in the wall of the artery (which can happen during intense exercise), drugs (especially cocaine), and an inherited form of very high blood cholesterol.

Daily Mail reports Felicite was depressed and was involved in dangerous and unhealthy forms of extreme weight loss, including an unsustainable diet and intense workout routines as a result her mother’s recent death. Accordingly, it is important to consider the concealed and unknown physical and mental conditions of these young women.

Dr. Redwood assures us: “heart attacks are still extremely rare in young people”. These recent tragedies should not freak out the healthy population of young women, but should act as a warning to young women experiencing obesity or other dangerous factors that contribute to cardiovascular heart disease, and emphasize the importance of mental health support.