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What You (and Your Doctor) Don't Know Can Kill You

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The younger a woman is when she has a heart attack, the greater her chances of dying from it, says Alexandra Lansky, MD. Often, she says, a woman's first sign of heart disease is death. Lansky is director of the Women's Cardiac Health Initiative at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

For Loving, making people aware has become a political issue. Although awareness campaigns for breast cancer have been very successful, "women heart attack victims have no community support, no ribbon, no race," she says.

She adds that, in addition to the health problems, women are more likely than men to experience financial and relationship fallout after a heart attack. "I lost a year to depression and anxiety [after the attack]," she says.

Giardina says women and their doctors must recognize the risks and work on those that are modifiable, such as controlling diabetes, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, quitting smoking, and getting more exercise.

Awareness is the key, Hayes says. "What physicians don't know can hurt you," She adds, "What you don't know can hurt you."

Information on support for women with heart disease can be found at www.womenheart.org.

Vital Information:

  • Although heart disease kills more women than all types of cancer combined, most women do not consider it a serious health threat.
  • A heart attack can be more difficult to diagnose in women, because the symptoms can be vague, including pressure in the center of the chest or upper back, dizziness, nausea, clammy sweats, heart flutters, weakness, or shortness of breath.
  • There are many ways women can reduce their chances of getting heart disease, such as controlling diabetes, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, quitting smoking, and exercising.
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