If you're like most women, a healthy heart is something you take for granted. And when you hear the words "heart attack," you're more likely to think of your spouse than yourself.
But studies show that heart disease is the number 1 threat to a woman's health -- causing nearly 1 in 3 deaths in women compared to 1 in 30 for breast cancer. Yet heart experts say that far too many women don't take the risk of heart disease seriously and are failing to take steps to prevent it.
"We need for women to start thinking about prevention now. They can't wait until menopause to take care of their hearts," says Nieca Goldberg, MD, founder of the Women's Heart Program at New York University Medical Center in New York City and author of Women Are Not Small Men: Life-Saving Strategies for Preventing and Healing Heart Disease.
The experts all agree: don't get scared; get busy. In February 2007, the American Heart Association (AHA) published new guidelines on preventing heart disease in women. They advise you to take steps for your heart health now to prevent a heart attack or stroke in the future.
To get on the right track, follow these 12 steps for a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Healthy Heart Step 1: Get real about your risk. "The first roadblock is that heart disease is thought to be a man's disease, and women do not perceive themselves to be at risk," says Thriveni Sanagala, MD, assistant professor of medicine in cardiology at Loyola University Chicago, Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood, Illinois. "Awareness equals motivation to make changes that lead to a healthy heart," she says.
Healthy Heart Step 2: Know what a heart attack feels like. What you think is heartburn or nausea could actually be signs of a heart attack. While the most common symptoms in both women and men are chest pain and discomfort, women are more likely to experience other symptoms -- shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, back or jaw pain, and unexplained fatigue, Sangala says.
Healthy Heart Step 3: Quit smoking now.Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. "Quit now," Goldberg says. "Find a technique that works for you. Options can be anything from smoking support groups, nicotine replacement and medication, to acupuncture and hypnosis." If one way doesn't work, try another, and keep trying until you succeed. The bottom line for heart disease prevention? Just do it.