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National Wear Red Day: Mother Recalls Receiving Shocking Cardiovascular Disease Diagnosis At Young Age

MANHASSET, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Friday, women across the nation are wearing red to draw attention to a deadly disease -- cardiovascular disease, the number one killer of women.

CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff spoke with one young mother who never imagined she was at risk.

"Like an elephant was sitting on my chest," said Cassidy Hayes, of Garden City.

Hayes was expecting a baby and remembers the struggle to breathe. Doctors brushed it off as a symptom of pregnancy.

"They would take one look at me and say, you're young, you're healthy, welcome to pregnancy," Hayes said.

After giving birth, she searched her symptoms online and found she wasn't healthy -- her heart muscle was giving out.

"The cardiologist diagnosed me with postpartum cardiomyopathy. This is basically congestive heart failure," she said.

With no family history, she could have died if untreated.

"When the heart muscle is that weak, it's at risk for what's called sudden cardiac death," said Dr. Evelina Grayver, with Northwell's Katz Institute for Women's Health.

Grayver says the case is rare but underscores the warning to women on this National Wear Red Day -- be aware of the body's warning signs of cardiovascular disease, responsible for one in three women's deaths.

Women's symptoms are different than men's.

"Shortness of breath should not be ever off pawned as nothing or anxiety or anything else ... Women can have shortness of breath, palpitations, some dizziness, light headedness and significant amount of fatigue," Grayver said.

According to the American Heart Association, most heart disease and stroke deaths are preventable. However, cardiovascular diseases continue to be a women's greatest health threat.

Doctors from Stony Brook Heart Institute say prevention begins early.

"Buildup of plaque in the blood vessels begins in your late teens to early 20s, so eating healthy, avoiding foods that are high in saturated fats, processed food," cardiologist Dr. Noelle Mann, of North Suffolk Cardiology, said.

Women's hearts are actually different than men's in that they can become thicker and less pliable.

With medication and regular cardio work-outs, Hayes is living a heart healthy life. Her baby is now 11 years old.

"Listen to your body," she said. "You have to put your own health first so you're there for your children down the road."

Her case is a reminder to never take our health for granted, and when something doesn't feel right, take action.

Smoking is major risk factor for heart disease and exercise is important, even starting with five minutes per day. For more information, visit goredforwomen.org.

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