Too young for heart disease
"I had a blood clot at 22." —Melissa Moser, now 28, Madison, Wisconsin
Secret culprit: Faulty genes
"My senior year in college, I woke up one day with a heavy pain in my chest—odd, because I was in really good shape. I went to the ER, and they said it was pneumonia and sent me home with antibiotics. But a few weeks later, I collapsed, unable to breathe. My roommate called 911. At the hospital, the doctors resuscitated me and had me airlifted to a better-equipped hospital, where a pulmonologist discovered a large blood clot between my heart and lungs called a pulmonary embolism. I had open-heart surgery and later found out that I have a genetic blood-clotting disorder called prothrombin gene mutation. Turns out, a relative had a small clot that year, too, and I hadn't even heard about it. I'm now on blood thinners and off birth control pills, which are linked to a higher risk of clotting. And I'm much more aware of all of the health problems in my family."
You should know: "Most of us are up on our family history of heart attacks, but we don't ask about clots," says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women's Health at NYU Langone Medical Center. Keep an updated document outlining family health conditions, and bring a copy with you to annual checkups.
"I had two blocked arteries at 30." —Essence Harris Banks, now 38, New Orleans
Secret culprit: Stress
"I was a single mom juggling two jobs and getting my MBA, but I felt like I was in the prime of my life. So when I started having trouble breathing at the gym, I figured it was just fatigue. Then one day, I couldn't catch my breath and I had a weird fluttering in my chest. I had this feeling that it was serious, so I asked my M.D. to refer me to a cardiologist, who found that two of my arteries were more than 90 percent blocked and did a procedure to repair them. I'm so glad I trusted my gut: My doctors still aren't sure of the primary cause, but they say all my stress had made matters worse. Since then, I've learned to say no to extra commitments and put my health first."
You should know: It's rare, but serious psychological stress can lead to heart problems even if you're healthy, Dr. Goldberg says. If stress is bringing on headaches, stomach pain or muscle tension, it doesn't mean you're going to have a heart attack. But lightening your load can go a long way toward making you feel better.
"My artery dissected when I was 28." —Rachel D'Souza-Siebert, now 30, St. Louis
Secret culprit: Pregnancy
"I had a problem-free pregnancy with my first child, Cameron—I took Spin classes into my third trimester. But eight days after his birth, I was brushing my teeth when pain suddenly radiated through my body. I felt an intense stabbing in my back, and my triceps felt as if they were being ripped off! At the ER, doctors discovered I'd had a spontaneous coronary artery dissection, probably as a result of my pregnancy—one of my arteries had torn, and I was at risk of having a heart attack. I had emergency surgery, and it really changed how I view my health. I'm even more careful about exercising and eating well, but the biggest decision was choosing not to get pregnant again. My husband and I had planned to have more children, but I can't take the risk of another SCAD. I want to be around to watch my son grow up."
You should know: Only a few thousand people each year have a SCAD, but 80 percent of those are young women, many of whom are pregnant or recently gave birth. "The mechanism behind SCADs is poorly understood," Dr. Goldberg says. "Go to the hospital quickly if you're feeling shortness of breath or chest pain around pregnancy. Don't ignore the signals."
More from MSN Healthy Living:
- Why heart attacks increase in the winter
- 6 healthiest berries for women's hearts
- The worst things to eat for your heart
- Bing: Signs of heart disease in women
a healthy heart and strong cardio
The small things -- the apps you download, the way you think, and the foods you put on your grocery list -- can make big changes.
Beware of claims that you should not do aerobic exercise.
All women face the threat of heart disease. But becoming aware of symptoms and risks unique to women, as well as eating a heart-healthy diet and exercising, can help protect you.
A guy’s guide to health, from early adulthood to retirement and beyond.
How to beat six health pitfalls that predominantly plague men
Follow these tips to streamline your life.
New research suggests that women who eat berries can lower their risk of heart attack.
What can you do to lower your stroke risk? Here are a few ideas to get you started.