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
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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.