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Heart Disease Health Center

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Heart Attacks Hit Middle-Aged Women

Heart attack risk is rising in U.S. women -- decades earlier than you might expect. Find out why, and what women can do about it.
WebMD Feature

"I never thought it could happen to me."

That's how Rose Rench reacted when doctors told her she was having a heart attack. At age 46, Rench was bewildered when she suddenly couldn't catch her breath while out for a walk on a sunny spring day. "I was young, I was 130 pounds, and I'd quit smoking a month before. I was healthy. But I couldn't breathe."

Guard Your Heart

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of U.S. men and women. Get information to protect your heart's health.

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Rench tells WebMD that she somehow drove herself home, but couldn't rest; her mind raced as she tried to gasp for breath. "I thought maybe I was having an asthma attack, though I’d never had asthma before. But I never thought of a heart attack," she says.

Rench drove herself to the emergency room, where tests showed an 80% blockage in two of the arteries bringing blood and nutrients to her heart. She immediately underwent a procedure to open those clogged arteries and keep them open with stents, which are tiny mesh tubes used to treat blockages.

Rench's story isn't as rare as you might think. A recent study shows that heart attacks are rising among middle-aged women, who have long been thought to be protected against heart disease -- at least until they reach menopause and lose the protective effect of the hormone estrogen.

What's behind that alarming trend -- and what can women do to protect themselves from having a heart attack in middle age? The answers, heart experts tell WebMD, are all about raising awareness and taking action.

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