While heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in the U.S., statistics show they are not getting the care they need.
In fact, when men have heart symptoms, 62-percent of doctors send them to a cardiologist for further testing, while less than half as many doctors refer female patients.
Now a closer look at more disturbing statistics that could cost a woman her life.
When Donna Marie Mackay complained of chest pain, shortness of breath and back pain, her doctor told her to take it easy.
"I felt as though I’m gonna die," says Mackay.
Her doctor did not order blood work or heart tests.
"She just like blew me off and that's a terrible feeling," she says.
Three months later, Mackay went to the ER. She had four blocked arteries and needed open heart surgery. "I couldn't believe it. I was just so stunned."
Cardiologist Adam Splaver says a symptom like shortness of breath is too often dismissed as anxiety among women.
"In training, we were taught to be on the lookout for hysterical females who come to the emergency room," he explains.
And some women are getting bad information. Women naturally have higher HDL, or good cholesterol levels than men. They're often told that will protect them.
"Just having a high HDL may help a bit but will not completely prevent cardiovascular disease," says Dr. Splaver.
One study shows 20-percent of women with high HDL had a heart attack. Another study shows when stress is added to a list of heart symptoms, 56-percent of doctors diagnosed heart disease in men. Only 15-percent of doctors made the same diagnosis in women.
"It's there. It's real and we need to be on the lookout," says Dr. Splaver.
Mackay can't change what's happened, but she hopes sharing her story will inspire other women to take charge if they think their doctors are ignoring their symptoms.
Another disturbing statistic?
While nearly 50-percent of doctors prescribed heart medication for men, only 13-percent prescribed it for women.
THE HEART OF A WOMAN: WHAT DOCTORS DON'T DIAGNOSE
WHAT IS HEART DISEASE? The term heart disease is used to describe a variety of diseases that can affect the heart including: diseases of blood vessels, such as coronary artery disease, heart rhythm problems, heart infections and heart defects a person is born with. Furthermore, the term heart disease is also used interchangeably with the term cardiovascular disease which refers to conditions that involve narrowed or block blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain or stroke. Infections and conditions that affect the heart's muscle, valves and rhythm are also considered forms of heart disease. (SOURCE: www.mayoclinic.com)
* Metabolic syndrome- a combination of fat around the abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides
* Mental stress and depression
* Low levels of estrogen
WAYS TO LOWER RISK:
* Exercise at least 30 minutes a day
* Maintain healthy weight
* Quit or do not smoke
* Reduce intake of saturated fat, cholesterol and salt
* Snack on nuts such as walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts- health benefits of nuts help to lower bad cholesterol
TREATMENT: Angioplasty and stenting, procedures used most commonly in men to flatten irregular plaques in arteries, is not recommended for women because the plaque build up is an even spread as opposed to bulky. Instead, drug treatment is suggested. Furthermore, clot-busting drugs are more effective in women.