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Women's Health

Who is More Likely to Die from A Heart Attack?

If you thought heart disease was a man's problem, guess again.  Heart attack is the number one killer of American women today.  Of the 960,000 people who die of cardiovascular disease in the U.S. each year, more than half–over 505,000–are women.  All cardiovascular diseases combined claim more women's lives every year than the next sixteen causes of death combined and almost twice a many as all forms of cancer.  More than one in five females have some form of cardiovascular disease.

Women & Heart Disease:  "An Equal Opportunity Killer"

Women generally develop heart disease about ten years later than men.  But by age 55, it's their number one killer.  The main difference between the sexes is not whether women are more likely to get heart disease, but when.  Women are often concerned with other health problems, such as cancer, arthritis, or osteoporosis, drawing attention away from the steadily ticking time bomb of heart disease.  Studies show that 44 percent of women who have had a heart attack die within a year compared to 27 percent of men, because women are older and sicker when they have heart attacks.  The reason, according to Marianne J. Legato, co-author of The Female Heart:  The Truth About Women and Coronary Artery Disease, is that more than a third of all heart attacks in women go undiagnosed because the victim mistakes the symptoms for something else.

Women's Symptoms:  Different, But Just as Deadly

What does a heart attack feel like?  For men, it's often the classic chest-clutching pain, tightness, or heaviness in the chest, usually accompanied by shortness of breath or sweating.  For women, a heart attack can be completely different.  Women may experience little or no chest pain.  Because the symptoms may be so unlike a "typical" male heart attack, female symptoms may be described as "atypical."

During a heart attack, women often experience shortness of breath or difficulty breathing and may even have pain or weakness in the shoulder, arms or all over the body.  Women are more likely than men to experience what feels like nausea, which is not relieved by antacids or burping.  There may even be vomiting.  The symptoms are more likely to occur when they're resting, during mental stress or physical exercise.  Women are also likely to experience fatigue or feel completely wiped out.  They may also have a general sense of feeling unwell; that something really wrong is going on.

In women, typical symptoms may come and go, signifying angina (a temporary lack of oxygen to the heart, which can be a warning sign of a future heart attack).  When they occur at the beginning of a heart attack, symptoms usually don't go away and they can become worse as minutes or hours pass.

Is Heart Disease Inevitable?

Certain risk factors can increase anyone's risk for heart disease, both men and women–some lifestyle habits, family history and personal characteristics.  Some risk factors are unique to women and are important for you to know.  Many CAN be modified, and the right lifestyle changes can help you avoid the nation's number one killer–heart disease.