Heart attack symptoms in women often more subtle than men

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FORT WORTH, Texas (CBS) The American Heart Association Friday asked women to wear red to bring awareness to the leading cause of death in women. Cardiovascular diseases affect about 44 million women in the U.S., and a woman dies of cardiovascular disease every 80 seconds. One heart attack survivor in Fort Worth, Texas wants other women to know the warning signs.

Doctors told 40-year old Tara Robinson she was too young to have a heart attack, but she did.

"I was hot, I was clammy. It was just crazy. I knew something was wrong, I just didn't know what," Robinson said.

For months, she complained of symptoms -- numbness in her left arm, tightness in her neck, nausea, and a burning in her chest. Tests were negative and the warning signs were dismissed because of her age. "We chalked it up to stress," she said.

Several weeks later, Robinson was back in the ER after collapsing, and doctors discovered she was having a massive heart attack. An exam of her heart showed she'd had two heart attacks before.

"I think I went into a state of shock or disbelief that this was happening to me. I've always been so healthy," she said.

"When women have heart disease it might not be that typical elephant sitting on the chest pressure that we hear often in men. In fact, in women the symptoms might be more subtle," said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital and spokesperson for the American Heart Association. She says recognizing the warning signs and the risk factors is key. "Prevention is so critical, and we know that 80-percent of the time heart disease is preventable in women. It's about lifestyle choices -- your diet, exercise, managing your stress, and getting your numbers to goal -- that's blood pressure, cholesterol, sugars and your weight."

Robinson, now 43, has changed her outlook on life. "We have to start as women to put ourselves first and make a commitment to living a healthier lifestyle," she said. She's eating healthy and exercising for 30 minutes every day.