SALT LAKE CITY — February is heart month and a good time to make sure your ticker is healthy. That's especially important for women, whose symptoms manifest differently.
"It felt like my heart wasn't beating. I knew then at that point that it must be a heart attack," said Kally Heslop. She was 29 and had just had her fourth baby when doctors diagnosed her with a rare heart condition.
Congestive heart failure followed, and Heslop needed a heart transplant.
"Three days later I was transplanted," she said. That was 1989.
Heart disease is not just a man's disease. It's the No. 1 killer of both men and women.
"Actually more women than men die suddenly from heart disease every single year," said Dr. Kevin Campbell, cardiologist and CEO of PaceMate. He's an expert on heart disease in women and wrote the book "Women and Cardiovascular Disease: Addressing Disparities in Care" to raise awareness.
Campbell said women often present differently than men. "Sometimes they may come in with flu-like symptoms. They may come in with fatigue, depression, or feelings of dread," he said.
Dr. Virginia Hebl, a heart failure and transplant cardiologist with Intermountain Medical Center, said women's symptoms can be more typical.
"Shortness of breath, chest pain or pressure, palpitations like their heart is fluttering or racing, dizziness, light-headedness," she said.
Prevention is key, Hebl added. That includes a healthy diet and regular exercise to achieve and maintain optimal weight. Campbell said that can be as easy as just moving.
"If you're a sedentary person, get up and get off the couch, walk to the mailbox and back. If you can do that, then maybe next week you can walk around the block," he said.
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Also, know the risk factors. "A family history, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol," Campbell said.
After 28 years and a full life raising her kids, Heslop's transplanted heart wore out. A year ago, she got her second transplant and is doing well. Heslop hopes to spread the word: "Women need to pay attention to their heart; take care of themselves."
Experts recommend seeing a primary care doctor to talk about your risks of heart disease and how to lower them.
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