womenshealthmag.com – You’re young, you’re healthy, you probably don’t need to worry about your heart, right? Wrong, says Suzanne Steinbaum, a cardiologist and spokesperson for the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women campaign. “If you have a heart, you can get heart disease,” she says. “It’s not just something that affects old people and men.” In fact, heart disease is the number-one killer of women, accounting for one in three deaths each year, according to the AHA.
The difference between you and your 70-year-old neighbor, however, is the type of heart problems each of you is most at risk for. The most prevalent conditions in young women are congenital heart abnormalities, meaning you’re just born with them, like a mitral valve prolapse, or genetic problems, Steinbaum says. About five out of every 500 female babies are born with heart defect, according to the AHA.
Your youth also doesn’t excuse you from more “traditional” heart issues like heart attacks, clogged arteries, and strokes. Your set of personal risk factors, which include family history, lifestyle factors, and medical history, in addition to age, can give you a better idea of how worried you should be about your heart. For instance, the combo of birth control pills and smoking—both common in younger women—can up your risk of a heart attack by 20 percent, the AHA says.