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A healthy 43-year-old woman had a heart attack 'out of nowhere' — how is that even possible?

Elise Solé
Women are more at risk than men of dying from cardiovascular disease. (Photo: Getty Images)

A young, healthy woman is sharing her experience of having a heart attack “that came out of nowhere” in a viral Facebook post.

On Wednesday, Beth Shelburne, a journalist in Birmingham, Ala., who works for local news station WBRC, wrote in a post that got 1,400 reactions, “I had a heart attack Monday night. I know, it’s still hard for me to process. I am currently in good hands at UAB, undergoing tests on what may have caused it. I am 43 with no known health problems, other than a large load of anxiety I carry around in an already stressful but fantastic life. Still, this came out of nowhere.”

 



At first, Shelburne thought the early symptoms of lightheadedness and shortness of breath were actually a panic attack. “But what got my attention was radiating dull pain and pressure in my chest, throat & jaw, and down my arms,” she wrote. “That was something I had never experienced, so we went to the E.R. Turns out, that was the right thing to do…for now, I am incredibly grateful to JUST BE ALIVE. That is an amazing gift.”

A Facebook commenter chimed in that her friend, also Shelburne’s age, had suffered a heart attack recently. Another wrote, “I had a heart attack at 43. Had a personal trainer and no risk factors. Turned out mine was caused by severe spasms in 2 of my coronary arteries. Unfortunately, I had open heart surgery before they figured out the true cause. 

Heart attacks often evoke images of overweight middle-aged folks (the average age of men having a first-time attack is 65; for women, 72), but according to Sam Kalioundji, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Dignity Health Northridge Hospital in California, young women — even in their 30s — are at risk.

“Cardiovascular disease, of which heart attacks are one type, is the leading cause of death among women for two reasons,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Heart attacks have long been viewed as a male concern, so women aren’t educated about them as much. And women tend to present with atypical symptoms, which are easier to overlook.”

Factors that put women at risk are diabetes, high blood pressure and blood sugar, stress, family history, smoking (that includes vaping), depression, and lack of sleep and physical activity. “Ideally, women should get 40-60 minutes of exercise per day — not necessarily through tracking daily steps but actual, self-focused exercise,” says Kalioundji, adding that not being overweight isn’t a pass for unhealthy habits. “We often treat physically fit people who had heart attacks.”

Other areas of concern are trendy high-protein diets that include generous servings of red meat, which increase the risk for heart disease, as well as diet supplements.

Kalioundji notes that while some heart attacks are sudden, women tend to experience a gradual onset of discomfort, such as shortness of breath, fatigue, neck and abdominal pain — all signs that point to calling 911. “Oftentimes, a heart attack can feel like indigestion,” he says, adding that if the pain worsens with activity, it’s a red flag. “Never delay getting medical care.”

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