"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."
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...
"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.