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Factors To Unhealthy Heart

The Early Show kicked off its annual "HeartScore" series, a week-long look at the ways to treat and prevent heart disease.

On Monday, The Early Show Medical Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay gave some information to fight the leading killer in the United States.

A new survey suggests women now believe that heart disease is something that can happen to them.

"They just don't think it's going to happen to them, but 48 percent of women recognize that heart disease is the leading killer of women," says Senay. "But only 13 percent of women say it's a problem that could happen to them. The message is getting out. There's just a ways to go before it sinks in better."

Senay says many people are blindsided by a heart attack because they are unaware of their personal risk factors. Almost two-thirds of the time, people die suddenly from a heart attack because there were no prior symptoms.

"That doesn't mean that they were no risk factors," says Senay. "If you look closely, you find that almost all people who die suddenly from heart disease had at least one risk factor and many times multiple risk factors. That's why knowing where you stand as far as all the risk factors is vitally important -- from high blood pressure to cholesterol, weight, inactivity, all factor into the risk."

There is no cure for heart disease. Senay says the best weapon against heart disease is to prevent it. There are treatments and medicine to help against heart disease, but knowing the risk factors and heading it off before getting the disease is the smarter thing to do.

There is a way to predict heart disease over a ten-year period. Senay recommends going to American Heart Association's Web site and follow their calculations to predict heart disease risk and then use that information to begin reducing that threat.

Senay says cigarette smoking is a huge factor in causing heart disease.

"People think, 'Oh, well, I'm not overweight, I don't have a cholesterol problem, a little bit of smoking isn't going to hurt me.' That's not true," she says. "Cigarette smoking is directly toxic to the heart and coronary arteries, so you want to stop smoking even if it's just a little bit. What's interesting, even when they ban smoking in small ounce, they've done studies that show the heart attack rate drops."

The symptoms of heart disease vary. It could be a mild stomach pain with sweating or intense aching pain. Senay recommends examining all the different types of symptoms, particularly for women, and don't hesitate calling 911 when it's essential.