How to Prevent a Heart Attack
The Best Heart-Health Checkup
Tremendous strides have been made in diagnosing and treating heart disease over the past decade. But here's the sobering part, if you're female: According to a landmark 2005 study, doctors continue to seriously underestimate women's heart-disease risks.
As a consequence, women still aren't referred as often as men for tests that would uncover problems -- especially those without obvious symptoms -- and so get fewer preventive treatments. Since 64 percent of women who die suddenly of heart disease had no symptoms, this underappreciation of the risks they face is more than just dangerous: It's lethal.
"It's surprising and sad," says Marianne J. Legato, MD, director of the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University, in New York City. "Men's death rates from heart disease are diminishing. Women's aren't."
Heart attacks are the number one killer of American women. Heart disease causes six times as many deaths as breast cancer and will kill some 230,000 U.S. women this year.
Part of the problem is that women tend to develop heart disease a decade later than men -- usually in their 60s -- and when they do get it, they're less likely than men to see their problems as severe, according to a new study, and thus they may delay getting care. But plaque formation can begin in your teens. Starting heart-saving strategies early betters your chance of heading off trouble. "Younger women need to realize that they are vulnerable," says Sharonne N. Hayes, MD, director of the Women's Heart Clinic at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota.
Even if your genes make you a prime candidate, heart attacks are largely preventable. Unhealthy habits -- eating high-fat foods, carrying excess weight, being sedentary, smoking -- cause a staggering 82 percent of heart attacks in women, according to a landmark 2000 New England Journal of Medicine study.
A smart heart-health strategy begins with a complete checkup to evaluate your risk. If you're sent to a cardiologist, use our list of the latest tests to give yourself the best chance of finding and handling any trouble early.
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