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Heart Attacks More Deadly for Women

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. While both men and women have heart attacks, statistics show they're more deadly for women. Full Focus reporter Heather Hill has more

(Video of this report will be available in the Full Focus section on the Web site on Thursday afternoon).

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. While both men and women have heart attacks, statistics show they're more deadly for women. Full Focus reporter Heather Hill has more on what every woman should know when it comes to heart health.

February is National Heart Month and a luncheon today turned the spotlight on the part of the population we don't usually associate with heart attacks -- women.

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Suzie Arnegger: I was mis-diagnosed by seven doctors and two emergency rooms within a period of six months.

Suzie Arnegger was 56-years-old when she had her heart attack. She wasn't a smoker, didn't have a family history of heart problems and wasn't overweight. Flu-like symptoms finally sent her to the emergency room. Arnegger says women need to be aware that, like her, they might not experience what we think of as traditional symptoms.

Arnegger: They need to look for jaw pain, mid-back pain, flu-like symptoms. I had face pain that went across this way (shows with hand), and we do get the chest pain and pain going down the arm.

And Arnegger's story isn't unique. Not only is cardiovascular disease as prevalent in women as it is in men, but women with the disease actually have a higher mortality rate. 

Dr. Robert Stein is the medical director of cardiovascular services at Palomar Pomerado and the president of San Diego's chapter of the American Heart Association. He says too often, people focus on the tiny differences between men and women rather than how we're alike -- a practice that has led to decades of the misconception that women don't get heart disease.

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Stein: The risk to women in terms of cardiovascular health is poorly appreciated. And it's poorly appreciated, not only by the women themselves, but also by the health care providers. We, ourselves, are not as aware of cardiovascular risk in women as we should be as the doctors and the nurses.

Stein says women of all ages need to quit smoking, manage their blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes, and get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily. But if you're already experiencing symptoms, remember that women are sometimes under-diagnosed and under-treated. Arnegger says you have to be proactive and listen to your body.

Arnegger: They have to get a handle on that and be their own advocate in the doctor's office. If we can't be our own advocate, then bring someone with us, or with that person so that they can help them talk to the doctor."

Palomar Pomerado Health and the American Heart Association sponsored today's women's health luncheon. They say to watch out for other warning signs of potential heart problems including shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness and nausea.