Atherosclerosis -- hardening and narrowing of the arteries -- gets a lot of bad press, with good reason. This progressive process silently and slowly blocks arteries, putting blood flow at risk.
Atherosclerosis is the usual cause of heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease -- what together are called "cardiovascular disease." Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer in America, with more than 800,000 deaths in 2005.
How does atherosclerosis develop? Who gets it, and why? This...
"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
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,
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.
Answer: False. While both cholesterol and blood pressure are
contributing factors to heart disease, Goldberg says there's clearly not enough
emphasis on the other factors that can also play a role.
"Family history is of major importance. So is weight and blood sugar. I
don't see enough women who are overweight or who have diabetes getting their
hearts checked, when these are leading risk factors for heart disease,"
2. True or False: Estrogen and other hormones protect women from
heart disease, so young women don't have to worry.
Answer: False. "One of the biggest misconceptions out there right
now is that young women don't get heart disease or heart attacks, or that they
don't have to worry about the risk factors linked to heart disease. But nothing
could be farther form the truth," says J. Julia Shin, MD, a cardiologist at
Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. Young women do get heart attacks,
says Shin, and they are often fatal.