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Women and Heart Disease: Key Facts You Need to Know

Experts share information about symptoms and risks that even the most health-savvy people may not know.

The WebMD Women's Heart Health Quiz continued...

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," says Goldberg. 

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.

According to the AHA, women under age 55 account for up to 16,000 heart-related deaths and 40,000 cardiac-related hospitalizations each year.

3. True or False: Health events that occurred during pregnancy -- such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes -- can be risk factors for heart disease later in life. 

Answer: True. "Preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure during pregnancy -- it was always taught that these conditions go away after birth. But now we know that the impact and the effects linger, increasing the risk for heart disease," says Goldberg.

Preeclampsia causes a woman to have twofold increased risk of heart disease at midlife; gestational diabetes often paves the way for glucose intolerance and other prediabetic conditions that contribute to obesity and other risk factors for heart disease later in life.

"Because it could be 10, 15, 20 years or more since these things occurred, a woman who's 45 or 50 may not think to mention that part of her health history to her current doctor or cardiologist, but she should -- it's vital," says Goldberg.

This is particularly true, she says, if you find yourself in an emergency room with heart attack symptoms. "Knowing your full health history could help ensure you get the correct diagnosis and treatment -- and it may even save your life," says Goldberg.

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