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Younger Women At Risk Of Heart Disease

study, researchers interviewed two dozen women aged 18 to 55 who had had heart attacks and were admitted to one of two Connecticut hospitals. Three-quarters of the women were white, and 88 percent had a family history of heart disease. The vast majority (88 percent) reported traditional symptoms of severe chest pain. Yet only 42 percent suspected something was wrong with their heart. Less typical symptoms included pain in the jaw/shoulder area (experienced by 58 percent of the women); sweating (38 percent); nausea (29 percent); shortness of breath (29 percent); indigestion (21 percent) and weakness/fatigue (8 percent).

Yet, only half of the women in this study sought care within the first hour, apparently because they thought their symptoms weren't real or weren't serious. Forty-two percent of participants thought their symptoms were something other than a heart attack; 17 percent said they were embarrassed by the symptoms; and 8 percent said they were afraid the symptoms were due to a heart condition. Almost three-quarters (71 percent) of the women characterized their health as either just fair or poor, yet less than half believed they were at risk for heart disease. Just over one-third (38 percent) saw their primary provider for symptoms prior to having a heart attack. And only 56 percent of the women said their doctors said their symptoms were heart-related. And this was among a group of women almost all of whom had a family history of heart disease.

"This is really the first time research has focused on women aged less than 55," Steinbaum says. "The writing is on the wall. Don't attribute it to something else, the author warns.

Given the results of this study, it is imperative for physicians and young women to be better able to recognize early heart attacks and prevent heart disease. Recognizing early heart attacks helps prevent the larger heart attack, where more heart function is lost, recovery is longer and the
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