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Doctors Missing Early Heart Disease Symptoms in Women

Heart disease is the leading killer in the United States, but new studies show some doctors aren't recognizing early symptoms of the disease in women.

Doctors say they're not used to listening for women's clues that would indicate they have a heart condition.

According to studies published in the journal Circulation, two-thirds of women with dangerously high cholesterol levels were not getting drugs to lower them.

But as doctors better understand the symptoms of heart disease in women, they're trying to raise awareness in the medical profession and in patients.

"There had to be something wrong, that I know because I was blacking out, I had no strength in my legs," recalls Donna Wagner.

She has wrestled with health problems for five years. She had the risk factors and the symptoms. Thursday she was told she has heart disease.

"I think I was more reassured," she says, "[knowing that it happened] before I had a heart attack."

Wagner is not alone. So the medical community it taking a different approach.

"Cardiologists like myself are going out and talking to groups of general doctors who see women for yearly examinations who are really the front line," says Wisconsin Heart cardiologist David Lewis, "And saying 'Hey, women are different from men we need to go out and treat them differently and ask these other questions.'"

Early detection is what saved Wagner from a possible heart attack or surgery.

"They [women] should be advocates towards going to their doctor and explaining if they have symptoms, especially women who are at high risk of heart disease," says Dr. Lewis.

Wagner gives her word of warning. "If you have these unexplained pains or feelings in your heart or in your upper chest go get it checked out because that's what I did and it saved me from having a heart attack."

Symptoms women should pay attention to: chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, discomfort in the shoulders or neck, nausea or fatigue.

If you have any of those it is so important to go directly to your doctor of the hospital because every minute of a heart attack you lose part of your heart muscle.


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