Lilly Rocha was 37 years old in 2008 when she began having strange symptoms. When people asked her questions, she knew the answers but couldn’t articulate them. A tingling sensation on her left breast became painful. She thought she might have breast cancer, but her doctor assured her she was just experiencing stress from her demanding job. Her symptoms continued to get worse, and doctors continued to dismiss her. Three months later, at work, she became seriously ill.
Luckily, her boss recognized the symptoms—chest and jaw pain and numbness in her left hand—and drove her to the nearest emergency room, where Rocha was told to wait. But in the waiting room, she had a heart attack—a massive one. “I was never overweight, I exercised regularly and was a healthy eater, but I knew nothing about the signs and symptoms of a heart attack or how women are often dismissed as being exhausted and hysterical when seeking medical help,” says Rocha. “Women need to know that 80% of heart disease is preventable, and they need to educate themselves.”
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number-one cause of death in both men and women. Statistics from the American Heart Association (AHA) show that one woman every minute dies from heart disease in the U.S. An estimated 44 million American women are affected by CVD, and 90% have one or more risk factors for it.
The good news is that 80% of heart attacks and strokes can be prevented by lifestyle changes, but when heart attacks do occur, fewer women than men survive the first attack. That’s largely because heart-disease symptoms in women can be different from those in men—and even some physicians misread the subtleties.