5 Things to Know Compared to men, women remain dangerously underdiagnosed and undertreated for cardiovascular disease (CVD]) as I recently reported in a scientific update to healthcare providers. One factor is the lingering myth among women and even doctors that CVD mainly affects men. In a recent survey, 43% of women were unaware that CVD is their no. 1 health threat, killing ten times more women than breast cancer does. Only 8% of primary care doctors, and 17% of cardiologists, knew that more women than men die from CVD every year. The good news, however, is that with the right knowledge and care, heart attacks and strokes are preventable. Here are 5 things everyone needs to know.

  1. You’re NOT too young to have a heart attack — or to take action to avoid one. In a 2015 Yale study, CVD was called “a rising epidemic” in younger Americans, particularly women. The researchers studied 3,501 heart attack survivors, ages 18 to 55, and found that almost all of them had at least one potentially modifiable risk factor–such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity or smoking–and about 65% had three or more of these conditions.
  2. Women are less likely to be told about their heart attack and stroke risks. The Yale team found that only 53% of the patients studied knew they were in danger before their heart attack. Even fewer had discussed how to lower their risk with their medical provider. Women were 11% less likely than men to have been alerted to their cardiovascular threats–and 16% less likely to have been counseled on ways to reduce them, such as lifestyle changes. This alarming gender gap in prevention is a key reason why younger women are the only age group with rising rates of CVD deaths.
  3. Women have unique red flags for heart attack and stroke risk. While men and women share certain risk factors for these events, such as those listed above, women also have gender-specific red flags, as discussed in the Bale Doneen February/March newsletter. However, a recent survey found that 90% of women aren’t aware of female-specific risks for stroke, such as certain pregnancy complications, migraine headaches, lupus, and hormone replacement therapy. Rates of stroke have jumped by 44% in those under age 55, according to a 2012 study.
  4. Men and women can have different heart attack warning signs. One major study found that days or even weeks before a heart attack, women often had such early warning signs as severe shortness of breath, unusual fatigue, and anxiety or a sense of impending doom. During the attack, women also had higher rates of non-chest pain in the upper back, shoulders, neck, or jaw than men. These gender differences are one reason why women under age 55 are up to seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed when they go to the hospital with heart attack symptoms, compared to men the same age.

All heart attacks and strokes are potentially preventable with the right knowledge and care. As Dr. Bradley Bale and Amy Doneen discuss in their book, Beat the Heart Attack Gene: The Revolutionary Plan to Prevent Heart Disease, Stroke and Diabetes, it often takes more than the current standard of care to keep your heart and brain healthy. We’ve been called “disease detectives” because we check all patients for early signs of hidden arterial disease, regardless of their risk factors. Our mission–and passion–is to save lives by offering our patients a personalized prevention plan to help them live well, without fear of a heart attack or stroke, even if they have already suffered one or more of these events in the past.