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Know The Signs: Experts Say Heart Disease Can Develop Early In Women

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Should women in their 20s and 30s be concerned about heart disease?

Heart disease is the number one killer of women, and doctors say it can start developing in our teens, CBS2's Mary Calvi reported.

Vanessa Rodriguez was 14 weeks pregnant and just 29 years old when she suffered a heart attack.

"I was in utter shock," Rodriguez said. "Heart disease is common in men."

Carla Wills had her first heart attack at 26, and another at 38 -- and was frustrated by skeptical doctors.

"Before I was finally diagnosed, I went to four medical professionals," Wills said.

Experts say Wills' experience is not that uncommon.

"Unfortunately, there are doctors that will not take a young woman seriously because they are thought of as 'low risk,'" cardiologist Dr. Annabelle Volgman said.

According to cardiologist Dr. Marla Mendelson, it's important for women to understand from an early age that they could be at risk.

Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and being overweight.

It's also important to know the symptoms. Experts say women often experience symptoms they don't associate with a heart attack.

"Women will sometimes have strange sensations like can't sleep, jaw pain, teeth pain, neck pain," Dr. Volgman said.

Rodriguez is now exercising and improving her diet to help lower her risk.

"My weight plays a significant factor, so that's one thing again, that I need to work on," Rodriguez said.

Wills is on medication, but has also made lifestyle changes. She wants other women to learn from her experience.

"I have been so made aware how heart disease is the number one killer of women," Wills said.

Other signs of a heart attack include pressure in the center of the chest, pain in both arms, nausea and lightheadedness.

While deaths from heart attacks are going down in most age groups, they are increasing in women ages 35 to 54.

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