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Heart Health Center

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6 Risky Heart Health Myths

Believing these myths could put your cardiovascular health in danger.

Heart Myth #2: Heart disease treats men and women the same. continued...

In 2003, a study published in Circulation examined the symptoms that 515 women, (average age 66), had experienced before having a heart attack. The researchers found that for at least one month prior to the acute event 70% of the women experienced unusual fatigue, and nearly 50% had weakness, sleep disturbance, or shortness of breath. What's more, 43% of the women felt no chest pain at the time of their heart attack presentation.

Nausea and/or indigestion can also be unusual (atypical) symptoms forewarning a heart attack.

"Men can have less classic symptoms, but there is a higher prevalence with these in women," Mieres says. "Older women tend to present more like men, with the classic chest pain, which is still the overwhelming symptom of a heart attack."

Putting all of this in context is important. Not all unusual symptoms mean you have heart disease. But if you have risk factors, pay attention to how you feel. New or changing symptoms, even if not typical, could be a sign of problems with the ticker.

Heart Myth #3: Younger Women Aren't at Risk

"I think one of the most common myths is that women still tend to think they are not vulnerable" to heart disease, Mieres says. "They think it is a disease of older women and men. So women in their 40s and 50s still believe they are safe."

But heart disease is the No. 1 killer of U.S. women, causing more than 460,000 deaths annually, not all of which are among the elderly.

Risk factors that contribute to heart disease -- including obesity, Type II diabetes, and hypertension -- are showing up earlier now in women, Mieres says. As these factors become more common at a younger age, heart disease may follow.

On average, there tends to be a 10-year gap in the age at which heart attacks occur in men and women, says Rita Redberg, MD, professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco and director of women’s cardiovascular services. Men are more likely to get them in their mid-50s and women in their mid-60s.

This age difference could be due, in part, to estrogen. Jackson says estrogen has a complex role in the prevention of heart disease, but exactly how it works isn't clear.

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