Credit: Istockphoto

IstockphotoFrom Health magazine

Women are more at risk of dying from a heart attack than men, partly because we dont recognize the symptoms, which can be more subtle than the cinematic heart-clenching ones typically seen in men. One study of 30 women younger than 50 whod had heart attacks found that most failed to realize they were having one, mistaking it for fatigue, indigestion, stress, or overexertion. If youre experiencing the following signs of a heart attack, call 911—youll get faster care if you go to the ER in an ambulance.

  • Unusual fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Lower chest or upper abdominal pressure or discomfort
  • Back or jaw pain
  • Pressure, squeezing pain in the center of the chest
  • Pain spreading to the neck, shoulder, or jaw

Finding out what puts you at risk for a heart attack can help you learn what precautionary steps to take in avoiding one.

1. Learn your family history.
Diabetes, heart disease, strokes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure all can run in families, hiking your risk. (In fact, having a mother or father with early heart disease can raise your risk by 25 to 50 percent.) If you know risks early, you can address them early.

2. Eat right.
Eliminate saturated and trans fats from your diet, and replace them with antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. A 2009 Harvard study found that women whose diets most closely resembled the Mediterranean one—more vegetables, beans, nuts, and monounsaturated fats, and less meat—had a 29 percent lower risk of heart disease, compared with those whose diets were least like it.

3. Know your numbers.
If you have no known risk factors, keep your BMI below 25, LDL cholesterol at 130 or below, HDL at 50 or above, total cholesterol at 200 or below, triglycerides at 150 or below, and your waist circumference smaller than 35 inches. Turns out your waistline is really important: Research suggests that having a larger waist size, even if youre not obese, may be a predictor of heart disease in women.

4. Exercise.
Do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day and weight-train twice a week to lower your percentage of body fat. Exercise alone can reduce your risk of heart attacks by 35 to 50 percent—and were not talking boot camp here: Women who gain the most benefit are those who were relatively inactive before beginning regular moderate exercise.

5. Quit smoking.
Youre still at increased risk up to five years after quitting, but the risk steadily decreases. Having trouble quitting? Talk to your doc about the latest strategies.