Anybody who knows me quite well is aware that I spend a fair amount of my free time reading older issues of Vogue. As I prepare to move across town, I’ve been tearing out my favorite articles so I can chuck the rest of them (sob!). In the November 2011 issue I, again, came across “Matters of the Heart,” by Robert Sullivan, which had resonated with me the first time around. As February is Heart Health Month, I thought I’d catch you up on it.

“Heart disease,” Sullivan says, “remains the number-one killer of women in the United States, and younger women are twice as likely to die after suffering a heart attack as men of the same age.”

Honestly, heart disease might not have been in even my top five guesses of cause of death for women. Apparently, where breast cancer (my first guess) kills about 40,000 women a year, heart disease kills 300,000.

Have I just missed all this information and it’s being talked about all the time? Terrifyingly, no. Heart disease in women is a fairly new topic of research, discussion and concern. Sullivan suggests that the reason this information is practically a secret is because the symptoms alone are so vague. According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, the most common symptoms are unusual fatigue, sleep disturbance, shortness of breath, indigestion and a heightened sense of anxiety.

Really? I’ve felt all of these today just at work.

That’s not to say I believe I’m having a heart attack. But Sullivan says that “the age group most at risk is women in their 30’s and 40’s, who tend to think of themselves as invincible.” For the women who are exposed to this information, this is also the age group that is most able to prevent problems in the future.

Oh, and did I mention that at-risk women aren’t always obese (although obesity and diabetes are, of course, related to heart disease) or unfamiliar with exercise? At-risk women are all women, those with healthy lifestyles and those without. There are women having heart attacks who have regular work out routines, are vegetarians and who don’t have a history of heart disease in their families.

A positive aspect of all this research is that there is a growing awareness in the medical community as well as in society about the differences in heart disease in men and women. We have to realize that it can happen to us, even if it is in a quieter, less dramatic fashion. Something I definitely can see myself falling prey to is not taking any symptoms too seriously. Apart from a check-up every two or three years, I’ve gone to the doctor a handful of times because I talk myself out of it. Doctors are for emergencies and if I’m walking and talking, it’s no emergency, right?

Wrong.

We can’t be too afraid or too proud to face such a scary possibility. Every day we are learning more and more about how to stay healthy and live the life we choose, exactly how we choose. Heart of a lion, indeed.

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