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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)– What’s the number one killer of women? If you answered breast cancer, you’re wrong. It is heart disease. The American Heart Association numbers show 43 million American women are affected by heart disease.. and that a staggering one in three dies from heart disease each year.

For a long time, it was considered a men’s health issue. But doctors now say more women die from heart disease than men. On average, women develop heart disease about ten years later than men. Estrogen provides some protection in their younger years although smoking or diabetes can lessen that protection.

Eileen Hagan was an active 52-year-old woman when she suffered a heart attack. She says she was eating lunch and felt like she had taken too big a bite and it got stuck in her esophagus. Not really pain, she says, just a tightness. She didn’t really think about a heart attack. Two nurses she worked with took her to the emergency room. Tests showed she had suffered a mild heart attack. Eileen says her advice to other women is to get it checked out when you feel something just isn’t quite right. She says she didn’t experience the common symptoms of heart attack.

You’ve probably heard of the most common heart attack symptoms.. the crushing chest pain or intense pressure or tightness in the chest that doesn’t go away. Women sometimes have symptoms that are less common such as extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, indigestion with exercise, dizziness or lightheadedness, tightness or ache in the neck, shoulder or upper back.

Dr. Andrew Kates, a Washington University cardiologist says people often have warning signs that they’re headed for a heart attack down the road. They’re sometimes similar to heart attack symptoms, but they may last a minute or two and go away. Those warning signs may also include fatigue, shortness of breath, indigestion with exercise and angina or chest pain or pressure.

But Dr. Kates also points out that half the people who die from heart attack, die suddenly.. and half of those people didn’t have any warning signs. So that’s why it’s important to also be aware of some health issues or other things that may put you at risk of developing heart disease that could lead to a heart attack.

You can’t control family history, but you can be aware that it increases your chances of developing heart disease. However, there are many treatable factors that you can do something about.. high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, physical inactivity, poor diet and emotional distress.

And don’t delay seeking help. If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 9-11. Don’t drive yourself to the ER.  Dr. Kates says people usually get seen quicker in the ER when they come in by ambulance. On the way, the paramedics can evaluate your situation, start necessary meds and alert the ER you’re on your way.