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Heart disease, not breast cancer, is the number one killer of women. In fact, heart disease kills more women than the next seven most deadly diseases combined.

Women sometimes fail to recognize a heart attack because their acute symptoms are different than those of men experiencing a heart attack. Severe chest pain may occur during a heart attack for both men and women, but women also report pain or discomfort in other areas of the body before or during a heart attack. Pressure, tightness, aching or burning in the upper back, neck, shoulders, arms, jaw or throat can be signs of heart distress.

Women have also described the discomfort as a sharpness, a fullness or a tingling. Shortness of breath, fatigue, stomach pain, cold sweats, dizziness, indigestion or nausea also may occur during the acute phase of a heart attack.

Women can reduce the risk of heart disease (and ovarian and breast cancers) by controlling cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Losing weight can also reduce the risk of heart attack.

Here are seven steps physicians tell women to take to prevent a heart attack:

  1. Check your blood pressure regularly. If you are taking medication for high blood pressure, take it exactly as directed, even if you feel fine.
  2. Stop smoking, if you smoke.
  3. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy to get your daily dose of calcium, potassium and magnesium.
  4. Choose healthful unsaturated fats instead of saturated fat.
  5. Reduce stress levels at home and at work.
  6. Limit your alcohol intake to no more than one glass per day.
  7. Get 30 minutes of exercise every day and keep your weight within healthy limits.

Women are inclined to ignore their symptoms or treat warning signs as something other than a heart attack. Because of these tendencies, women are urged to pay attention to feelings of unusual fatigue or discomfort. If taken seriously, the warnings signs can save the life of someone’s mother, aunt, sister or daughter.

Photo credit: duh.denise on Flickr.

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