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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...

"What I find is that symptoms from the heart can also give you clues to other conditions, particularly when it comes to palpitations, or skipped or fluttering heartbeats. The problem could be linked to an overactive thyroid, to hormonal changes in menopause, to signs that you are experiencing increased stress, or that you're overcaffeinated. It may not be heart disease, but looking into the health of your heart may help you find and solve other problems that are causing your heart symptoms," says Goldberg.

6. True or False: A hot flash is always a sign of menopause and never the sign of a heart problem.

Answer: False. While hot flashes are most often associated with -- and caused by -- the hormone changes of perimenopause and menopause, they can also be a symptom of certain cardiac conditions.

"It depends on how and when they occur. If you get hot flashes when you're just sitting around watching television or talking on the phone, then it's probably hormonal. If you only get them when you exert yourself, then it could be a symptom of angina," says Shin.  Angina is a heart-muscle-related problem that is a form of heart disease.

When should you see a doctor?  Shin tells WebMD: "Anytime a symptom is really bothering you. But more important is how your symptom fits within the picture of your overall health screenings and risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a family history of heart disease."

7. True or False: To prevent heart disease all women should take one baby aspirin a day. 

Answer: False. Not all women need -- or will benefit from -- daily aspirin use, says Woynarowski.

While studies show that aspirin's anti-inflammatory effects can help prevent heart attacks in those with a history of heart disease, regular use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs -- including aspirin -- has also been shown to dramatically increase the risk of both gastrointestinal and brain bleeding. For women who have no risk factors for heart disease, Woynarowski says the risks of a daily aspirin far outweigh the heart-health benefits.

"If you have no personal risks factors for heart disease, if you have no strong family history of heart disease, then you should not be taking aspirin every day," he says

8. True or False: Smoking increases your risk of a heart attack. 

Answer: True. According to the AHA, on average, women who smoke have heart attacks 19 years earlier than nonsmokers. "Smoking is a major cause of heart disease and stopping, at any age, will help reduce those risks," says Shin.

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Reviewed on April 30, 2008

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