Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of U.S. men and women, accounting for 40% of all U.S. deaths. That's more than all forms of cancer combined.
Why is heart disease so deadly? One reason is that many people are slow to seek help when symptoms arise. Yes, someone gripped by sudden chest pain probably knows to call 911. But heart symptoms aren't always intense or obvious, and they vary from person to person and according to gender.
Because it can be hard to make sense of heart symptoms, doctors...
"Women tend to think that breast cancer is their biggest health threat. And while it's important, heart disease remains the No. 1 killer of women, even young women. But that message just hasn't been fully recognized," says cardiologist Nicea Goldberg, MD, director of the Women's Heart Program at NYU Medical Center and author of the new book Complete Woman's Guide to Women's Health.
Dave Woynarowski, MD, agrees. "If you look [at] how many women get heart attacks and how many women die of heart attacks, you would be stunned; still, many women just don't seem to realize how great a threat heart disease really is," says Woynarowski, an internal medicine specialist from West Reading, Pa.
The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that 42.1 million women had cardiovascular disease in 2004, resulting in some 461,000 deaths.
Moreover, Woynarowski says too often the symptoms and risk factors of heart disease go unnoticed, sometimes even by doctors.
"Even in the emergency room, many times doctors will attribute a woman's symptoms to something other than heart disease. There is simply not enough awareness on either side of the stethoscope," he says.
To help get up to speed, take WebMD's Women's Heart Health Quiz. Find out what you need to know about the symptoms and risk factors of heart disease in women, and what steps you and your doctor can take to protect you.
The WebMD Women's Heart Health Quiz
1. True or False: As long as my cholesterol and blood pressure are normal, I don't have to worry about having a heart attack.