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It’s never too early to start thinking about heart health: Often considered a risk for the elderly, heart attacks can affect younger and middle-aged women. Younger women may also experience different heart attack symptoms from older people, making heart health awareness especially important for this age group.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA,, heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are leading causes of death in American women. Deaths from heart disease among younger women, in particular, may be on rise: The AHA cites data suggesting that more women ages 35 to 44 died from CVD between 1997 and 2002 than in previous years.

The issue for women of all ages, and especially younger women, is largely heart-health awareness. Are women less mindful than men that heart health is a women’s issue or are they not as watchful for symptoms of heart disease or heart attack? Regardless, it’s time to get started on your own heart-health education.

First of all remember that as a woman, and even a younger or middle-aged woman, you can be at risk for a heart attack. Learn the following warning signs and listen to your body—even if a healthcare professional has told you that you’re too young to be at risk.

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Not Necessarily Chest Pain: Signs of Heart Attack in Younger Women

Chest pain is an important sign of heart attack in both sexes and all age groups, but women age 55 and younger might report symptoms that don’t include chest pain. Instead of chest pain—and sometimes in addition to it—signs of heart attack among younger women include:

  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness

Whether the above symptoms occur along with or without chest pain, they should be taken seriously as possible signs of a heart attack. If you suspect that you’re having a heart attack, get emergency help immediately (call 9-1-1).

As a younger woman you can also protect your heart with healthy lifestyle choices. A balanced diet, regular exercise, not smoking (and quitting if you do), can go a long way toward heart health, at any age.