The indicators of a heart attack and heart disease are more vague in women than they are in men. Yet heart disease is the leading cause of death for women. Even doctors may have trouble diagnosing it correctly. "Women lucky enough to survive a heart attack often realize they had symptoms, but never made the connection," says Dr. Patrice Desvigne-Nickens, who directs the Heart Research Program at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
In men, heart disease and attacks may be heralded by chest pain. A woman may feel sudden, extreme fatigue; chest pressure or pain in the upper abdomen; breathlessness or windedness; nausea or vomiting; profuse sweating; or anxiety.
Prevention: Eat a nutritious diet, exercise regularly, and maintain a normal weight. Don't smoke. Don't drink excessively. Know your cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and keep them in check. If diabetic, control your blood sugar.
Tests: A doctor can select from many tests, including an electrocardiogram, a chest X ray, and a nuclear medicine echo stress test.
Treatment: Depending on the severity of the heart problem, intervention options include surgery, diet, exercise, and drugs. Drug treatment may include aspirin, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and ACE inhibitors.
For more information: Call the American Heart Association at 800-242-8721 (or find a local chapter in your Yellow Pages).
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