Heart attack is not typically thought of as a young woman’s disease, or an ailment of middle age. But new research from the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings shows this major health event is occurring more around childbirth. It remains uncommon, with just 8.1 cases per 100,000 pregnancy-related hospitalizations. Yet, the rate of heart attacks in women from pregnancy through two months after childbirth increased by 25 percent from 2002-2014.
The statistic comes from a review of a national database of hospitalized patients. The increase is likely due in part to an uptick in maternal age, the authors note, as American women are having children later in life. They are 26.3 years old, on average, when they first give birth, according to a 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
Compare that when the years 1910-1935, when the average age was 21.
Of course, many women have multiple children, spacing out births by several years. It’s easy to see how today the age of women giving birth to a second, third or fourth child could be approaching, or even passing, 40.
Another dynamic could be the prevalence of heart attack risk factors, such as obesity, overall heart disease and diabetes. Americans’ not-so-healthful diet promotes such illnesses.
The researchers also said they were surprised by the percentage of heart attack deaths in their study: almost 5 percent. With advances in care and the low heart attack risk of women in this age group to start, the scientists expected a lower mortality rate.
But child-bearing takes an incredible physical toll, and it’s crucial to keep an eye on heart health. Maybe then we can turn this deadly trend in the other direction.