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Women's Health

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Your Age-by-Age Guide to a Healthy Heart

Hidden risks and new save-your-life advice for every decade

Your 50s: Be Symptom-Savvy

Although the transition through menopause can be rough, the hormonal "peace" you finally achieve afterward may be pretty sweet. But there is one sour note: Your risk of heart disease rises two- or threefold. This may be due, in part, to the loss of protection from natural estrogen, but it's also a matter of age and other risk factors finally catching up with you. The bottom line: It's time to learn what a heart attack feels like. "Women often delay dialing 911 because they doubt their symptoms signal a heart attack. And that hesitation can cost you your life," says Dr. Goldberg. Aside from the classic warning signs — a bursting chest pain that spreads to jaw, neck, and shoulder — look for these subtler symptoms, which can build in intensity over days or weeks: unusual fatigue, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, heaviness in the chest, or upper abdominal pain.

Should you start taking a baby aspirin? If you're younger than 55 and have never had a stroke or heart attack, probably not. Even aspirin that is buffered or enteric-coated increases the risk of life-threatening gastrointestinal bleeding — up to four times if you also take another NSAID such as ibuprofen, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force just reported. But if you're older than 55, when heart attacks and strokes become more common, a daily aspirin might make sense. Ask your doctor to help you weigh the pros and cons.

Surprising Hidden Risks

• Loneliness. If an empty nest or early retirement leaves you feeling isolated, the heartache may be more than emotional. In a 19-year study, women who reported feeling lonely most of the time had a 76 percent increased risk of heart disease. The connection? Chronic loneliness, like stress, may trigger inflammatory and hormonal changes that promote cardiovascular disease. It may also lead to poorer health habits that increase your risk, notes lead study author Rebecca C. Thurston, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Her Rx: Nurture your friendships and forge close social connections by volunteering at a local charity, joining a book club, or undertaking any other social activities that appeal to you.

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