Feature Archive

Heart Disease

It's the leading killer of women. Are you at risk?

WebMD Feature

May 22, 2000 -- Betty White isn't one to let colds, aches, or fatigue get in her way. In fact, the active 74-year-old from Tampa, Fla., says she has "never been sick a day in her life." But on a vacation to Oklahoma City last August, sudden pains in her ear, neck, shoulders, and back became so severe that she stopped at an outpatient clinic for a checkup.

The clinic's doctor ordered a few blood tests and told White she was probably just getting a virus. White was advised to see her family doctor for another checkup when she arrived back home. But, as she found out a week-and-a-half after her first symptoms, her pains amounted to more than just the flu: She had experienced a major heart attack.

When White visited her own doctor the day after flying home from Oklahoma to Florida, he again told her it was probably the flu and sent her home. But as the days passed, she became weaker and weaker. When she could hardly breathe and couldn't get out of bed, she was rushed to the emergency room and finally diagnosed. By this time, 50% of her heart was no longer functioning.

Coronary heart disease, which can eventually lead to a heart attack, is alarmingly common in women. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), it claims the lives of a half million U.S. women every year -- making it the number one killer of women in this country. In fact, despite the perception that heart disease is a man's illness, it has killed more women than men every year since 1984, says the AHA.