Lisa Marie Presley, the only daughter of rocker Elvis Presley and wife Priscilla, died on Jan. 12 after experiencing a cardiac arrest, authorities confirmed to NBC News.
Lisa Marie Presley was rushed to the hospital Thursday morning after the Los Angeles Fire Department responded to a call in Calabasas, California, about a female adult in cardiac arrest who wasn’t breathing, authorities told NBC News.
Cardiac arrest is a medical condition where the heart stops beating suddenly, and it’s different from a heart attack, which refers to a blockage in blood flow to the heart, according to the American Heart Association. When someone experiences cardiac arrest, the proper steps, such as CPR and use of a defibrillator, need to be taken right away to improve the chances of survival. About 90% of people who experience cardiac arrest outside the hospital die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cardiac arrest is less common in women than it is in men, according to UCLA Health, and it’s actually relatively rare for women to die from it: Sudden cardiac death affects 2.4 women out of 10,000 every year, according to Dr. Sheila Sahni, cardiologist with Hackensack Meridian Health’s JFK University Medical Center.
That said, heart attacks (the most common cause of cardiac arrest) and heart disease (a leading risk factor for cardiac arrest) are becoming more common in women above the age of 45, Sahni tells TODAY.com. Above 60 has historically been the age that doctors start suspecting heart disease in women, she adds.
Lisa Marie Presley was 54 when she died. It’s not clear what caused her cardiac arrest or if she had any related health conditions.
Risk factors for heart problems in women
One of the prevailing theories behind the increase in younger women developing heart disease is due to undiagnosed, uncontrolled risk factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, Sahni says.
“I really want this to be an eye opener for women to recognize that heart disease is their No. 1 threat,” she explains, emphasizing the importance of women talking to health care providers about whether they have any risk factors for heart disease.
“The vast majority of women are at risk for some form of heart disease over their lifetime,” adds Dr. Stacey Rosen, co-author of “Heart Smarter for Women — 6 Weeks to a Healthier Heart.”
According to Sahni and Rosen, some of the top risk factors for heart disease in women include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- High blood sugar
- Being overweight
- Experiencing an adverse pregnancy outcome (preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, repeated miscarriages, a baby that’s small for gestation, not losing the weight gained during pregnancy within a year)
- Being inactive
- Anxiety and depression
- Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis
- Having undergone chemotherapy
Women who have high risk complications during pregnancy may develop signs of heart disease as early as 45, Sahni says.
A family history of heart disease can also increase risk. Elvis Presley died at age 42 of a heart attack, possibly due to his addiction to prescription drugs, according to NBC News.
“There is family history related to cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), and there is family history related to coronary artery disease, and it’s very important to know the age at which it manifested in one of your bloodlines,” Sahni says.
“In the case of Lisa Marie, it’s very important (for her doctors) to know that her father also (died) at a young age and what his cardiovascular condition (was),” she adds.
Another important factor that can increase a woman’s risk of heart disease is that “women have a tendency to put their health last,” Rosen says. For this reason, it’s crucial for women to know the symptoms of heart problems in women.
Symptoms of heart attack in women
When women experience a heart attack, they do often have the traditional symptoms of breathlessness and chest pressure or discomfort, but they’re also more likely than men to feel “nonspecific symptoms,” Rosen says.
“Sometimes it’s just mild indigestion accompanied by fatigue,” she says. “For some, people it can be a funny feeling. I’ve had (women) patients over the years who thought it was a dental problem, this funny feeling in their jaw.” Other signs that Rosen’s seen in her patients include sleep changes and feeling a little fuzzy or “out of it.”
“We’re less likely to recognize (the symptoms), and then quite honestly, we know in the medical world that women are less likely still to get guidelines-based treatment,” Rosen adds.
Other nontraditional signs of heart attacks in women, per Sahni, include:
- Neck, jaw, shoulder or upper back discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in one or both arms
- Nausea and vomiting
“These are symptoms that are new,” Sahni stresses. “If you feel unusual fatigue throughout the day of your work week, it’s probably not a heart attack. But if something comes on … with exertion and doesn’t go away with rest, you need to be thinking about a heart attack or about your heart in general.”
Because the symptoms of serious heart problems in women can be easy to ignore, it’s important know your body, to advocate for yourself in medical settings and to have a health care provider who can help you identify the signs early, Rosen advises.
“Early prevention and an early recognition of a change in how we’re feeling as women is the most important,” she adds.
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