Obesity Breaks Young Female Hearts

Stroke and heart attack risk spikes in young women who are obese

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) When body mass index is high, so is the likelihood of heart attack or stroke. Obesity, however, isn’t just an older person’s problem. The threat extends to individuals who are much younger.

Obesity has been linked to a host of health problems—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, certain types of cancer and arthritis.

While studies have shown that women over age 45 with a high BMI have a higher chance of heart problems, scientists recently observed that obese women who are childbearing age also have an increased likelihood for heart attack or stroke.

"Exercise often to live a healthy life."

Michelle Schmiegelow, a PhD student at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, and her colleagues examined the link between obesity and the risk of heart attack and stroke in 273,101 women who had given birth between 2004 and 2009.

Participants were an average age of 30.5 years old. None of the women had a history of stroke, heart disease or kidney problems. During up to six years of follow-up, 68 of the women had a heart attack and 175 had a stroke.

Although the number of cardiac events was low, investigators found that women with a high BMI, indicating obesity, were twice as likely as those of normal weight to suffer a potentially life-threatening heart attack or stroke.

“Young women need to be aware that there are serious health risks associated with obesity and poor lifestyle habits, and these [negative effects] appear to set in early,” said Dr. Schmiegelow.

“This study is important because although the incidence of heart disease is declining overall, this downward trend doesn’t seem to apply to women 35 to 44 years of age."

"In fact, coronary artery disease seems to be on the rise in this group, however it is still very rare.”

Sarah Samaan, MD, cardiologist and physician partner at the Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, Texas, told dailyRX News, “For women, weight gain often accelerates in our childbearing years."

"This new information shows us that even in younger women, obesity, and the lifestyle choices that lead to obesity, can have devastating health consequences.”

While controlling weight is not easy, Dr. Samaan says that the chief factors contributing to it are easy to identify: diet and exercise.

“Fast food lunches, restaurant meals for dinner, sodas and snack foods are major culprits,” said Dr. Samaan, who is author of Best Practices for a Healthy Heart: How to Stop Heart Disease Before or After it Starts.

“By choosing to eat naturally healthy foods [including a Mediterranean diet], limiting calories by cutting portion sizes and exercising at least two and a half hours each week, a healthy weight is achievable and maintainable. Although it's never too late to start, this study shows us that the sooner we get control of our health, the better.”

Interestingly, authors also found that women who were underweight were slightly more prone to having a heart attack or stroke as well, although this trend needs to be further investigated.

 “The obesity epidemic is exploding, and we saw the urgent need to examine whether obesity increases the risk of cardiovascular disease in young women,” said Dr. Schmiegelow.

“Based on our findings, we need to focus more attention on the heart health risks associated with obesity early in life, especially given that obesity and heart disease both increase with age.”

The study was presented in March at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 16, 2013
Last Updated:
August 16, 2013