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Many people think heart disease as something only men need to pay attention to. News flash: It’s the No. 1 killer of women, too. With the help of FirstHealth Heart Services / FirstHealth Reid Heart Center, we’re spending this Valentine’s Day debunking some common myths about women and heart disease. Sexy.

Myth: Heart disease is a man’s disease.

Fact:  Actually, cardiovascular disease affects more women than men and is the number one killer of women. In fact, it’s more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. Yikes. So while many women worry about breast cancer (and rightfully so), they should also pay attention to their hearts.

Fact: Only 1 in 5 women believe heart disease is the biggest threat to their health. We need to change that.

Myth: I’m on Kanye’s workout plan, so I don’t have to worry about my heart.

Fact: Healthy (and healthyish) habits do not guarantee you won’t have heart disease. Even if you’re at a healthy weight, are fit and follow a healthy diet, you may have risk factors like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. These conditions may be influenced by family history and other things that have nothing to do with how much you exercise or what you eat.

Myth: I am too young to worry about this.

Fact: There’s no better time to be aware than the present. Although the risk of heart disease increases as you age, it can affect you at any age. Following a healthy lifestyle helps lower your risk, but some people are born with underlying conditions and risk factors that increase the risk of developing heart disease earlier in life. Other factors may also affect your chance of having heart issues at a younger age, such as smoking while on birth control pills.

Myth: I don’t have any symptoms, so all is good with my heart.

Fact: We want to believe this one, we really do. But many heart disease symptoms can be attributed to other conditions, especially because women’s symptoms are often different than men. Women are more likely to experience shortness of breath, dizziness/lightheadedness, fatigue, nausea/vomiting, or pain in the jaw, upper abdomen or lower chest. Some women don’t experience any telltale signs.

Fact: 64 percent of women who die suddenly of coronary disease had no previous symptoms, according to the American Heart Association.

Myth: My doctor will tell me if I have heart disease.

Fact: Doctors are only human, too. TBH, heart disease is often undertreated and misdiagnosed in women. Research shows doctors are more likely to assign a lower risk to women compared to men with similar risks. In one survey, only 40 percent of women reported having heart health assessments during wellness exams. Of the 74 percent of respondents who had at least one heart disease risk factor, only 16 percent were told they were at risk. Of course, this doesn’t apply to all doctors, but it’s important to advocate for your own heart health.

More About Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women and people of most racial groups in the United States. Heart disease does not just happen, and many contributing factors can be improved, avoided or stopped. Understanding and being aware of certain risk factors, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, are critically important in lowering risk. Knowing your numbers is key.

It is also important to keep up with regular visits to your primary care doctor and monitor changes in weight, cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose. Additional behaviors that increase risk include tobacco use, alcohol use and not getting enough physical activity.

To take the FirstHealth heart disease risk assessment quiz, visit www.firsthealth.org/heartquiz.

This article was created in partnership with FirstHealth of the Carolinas.

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