You no doubt know someone with heart disease. Eight million American women are currently living with it. Every year 435,000 women have a heart attack. And it's not just older women—and nearly a quarter of those heart-attack victims are under the age of 65. Even more troubling, women are much more likely than men to die of a first heart attack—women under 50 three times more likely. Part of the problem is that women—and doctors—may fail to recognize it's happening.
But while the very words "heart attack" give the impression of sudden onslaught, an episode is typically years in the making. "Heart disease starts early, with the earliest building blocks of a heart attack forming in your teens and early 20s," says Nieca Goldberg, MD, a cardiologist and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association.
So now I'm sitting across from Dr. Goldberg in her Manhattan office, answering her list of questions about my health history. No, I don't smoke and never have. (Mom didn't smoke either.) Yes, I try to eat healthy most of the time, but long hours on the job have me grabbing pretzels or candy on my commute home, then speed-dialing the local takeout joint for a late-night dinner, usually fried. What about exercise, Dr. Goldberg asks? I tell her I'm hitting the elliptical machine at the gym three days a week. I fess up that I dusted off my sneakers right after I made my appointment to see her, but I'm now up to 40 minutes each session. "This is great!" she says. Phew.