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Heart Disease Is Preventable, But Many Women Still Don't Know The Risk Factors

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Heart attacks kill five times as many women each year as breast cancer, but many women still don't know the risk factors for heart disease.

As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez explained, studies have shown that most heart disease is actually preventable.

It goes beyond the usual advice, and focuses on certain risks that women can control, but aren't aware of.

Three months after the birth of her baby girl, 37-year-old Christine Giles thought she had the flu.

"Oh I said, 'oh it's nothing, it's just hot -- I have a fever, give me some antibiotics, I'll be fine," she said.

Doctors said her heart was failing, and that she was dying.

Unfortunately, Christine has a lot of company, more than 200,000 women die of a heart attack each year. Tragically, that's something that doesn't have to happen.

"In spite of the fact that we have had preventative guidelines for women for over a decade that doctors are not implementing these preventative strategies for their women patients," Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum said.

That's borne out by a recent study of more than 1,000 women between the ages of 25 and 60. Despite the fact that most of them had had a routine physical in the previous year, only two in five women reported having a heart assessment.

"When we look at the study and we look at the survey, primary care physicians who are on the front lines, only about 20 percent of them feel comfortable talking to their patients about preventive guidelines and using these preventive strategies to really help women not get heart disease," Dr. Steinbaum said.

Another issue is that the heart attack that happens at age 60 actually had its origins decades earlier when women are in their child bearing years.

"Women tend to put themselves last, they are not making their heart health a priority. They're taking care of their kids and the juggling act that so many women have when they should be focusing on their heart health that might affect them later in life," Dr. Steinbaum said.

Prevention can be as simple as knowing your risk factors.

"The number one risk factor for heart disease is smoking, so if you're smoking you need to quit. The other one is high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and family history," Dr. Leslie Cho said.

Eating a healthy diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, and olive oil is also suggested.

If your doctor doesn't check your heart health ask him or her for a detailed prevention plan.

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