Heart disease, No. 1 killer, can sneak up on women

By Lauran Neergaard

Associated Press

Published: Monday, July 4 2011 9:35 a.m. MDT

One young patient says women need to know more about heart disease — and to get pushy about any symptoms.

Essence Harris of New Orleans was just 30 and seemingly healthy when she started getting short of breath and feeling a flutter in her chest during her daily workouts. Her primary care doctor thought it was panic attacks. A cardiologist found no obvious risk either — her cholesterol and blood pressure were normal — but ordered a stress test that signaled her heart fears were right. A further exam found severe blockages in two arteries that required stents to prop open.

Now 37, Harris says doctors' best guess is that a stressful lifestyle — a single mother, a full-time job, a part-time personal trainer, and studying for an advanced degree all at the same time — left her vulnerable even without obvious risk factors. Had she not been so fit, they said, her heart might not have held out as long before symptoms appeared. She's learned to be more laid-back, along with a healthier diet and keeping up that exercise.

"Listen to your body," she advises other women. "Nobody knows you better than you."

Online: Women and heart disease info: http://www.womenheart.org

EDITOR'S NOTE — Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The Associated Press in Washington.

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