DEBBIE ANN, HEART ATTACK SURVIVOR: I kind of felt like I had a little bit of maybe like a touch of asthma. My breathing was not normal. It was like I just couldn't get that last bit of breath in.
ANNOUNCER: Debbie Ann was only 42 when she had a heart attack. She survived it because she knew the signs and got herself to the hospital.
DEBBIE ANN, HEART ATTACK SURVIVOR: I was sort of embarrassed but I said, well, if I'm wrong, I'm wrong and I could get over embarrassment; I don't think I could get over if I had a heart attack.
NIECA GOLDBERG, MD, CARDIOLOGIST: There's a few reasons why heart attacks seem deadlier for younger women. Part of it is they don't realize that they're at risk, so when they have the symptoms they don't realize that they should get to the hospital, and in fact they do delay getting to the hospital. Once you experience a new sudden breathlessness, chest discomfort, lightheadedness, feel as though you're going to faint, that you must call 911.
ANNOUNCER: It's also important to know your risk factors.
NIECA GOLDBERG, MD, CARDIOLOGIST: Younger women more commonly are smokers. Diabetes is another common risk factor in a younger woman. What we call a premature family history, having a mother who had heart disease less than 60 or a father who had heart disease less than 50.
DEBBIE ANN, HEART ATTACK SURVIVOR: I'm a vegetarian. I eat well, I exercise regularly. The only factor I had was I was a prior smoker.
NIECA GOLDBERG, MD, CARDIOLOGIST: Smoking doesn't just cause lung cancer. It triples a woman's risk for having a heart attack. What smoking does is it actually causes the artery to constrict and spasm. That's why it seems so common that younger women who come in with heart attacks happen to be smokers, and they're found to have spasm of the arteries.
ANNOUNCER: Debbie Ann's heart attack was caused by spasms of the coronary arteries. They are controlled by medication.
DEBBIE ANN, HEART ATTACK SURVIVOR: I was so blessed by being at the hospital. And that they knew exactly what it was and that there's medication to take care of this. I still go on with my life. It makes me appreciate life more than I could have ever imagined before.
ANNOUNCER: Thanks for joining us on today's Once Daily.