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Heart disease symptoms may differ in females

Continuing the “Heart Smarts” series, day two focuses on heart disease and women. One in every five deaths in America is caused by heart disease. In fact, more women will die of heart disease and stroke than they will of breast cancer. For women, the symptoms of heart disease may be different than men and therefore more difficult to diagnose. “Today” profiles two women whose symptoms were overlooked and their fight for medical treatment.

In the movies, heart attacks are always obvious — various movies show women and men dying of heart attacks or dropping dead but in real life, especially for women, the symptoms of potentially fatal heart disease are often overlooked.

Susan Goodreds: I would talk about having this feeling of pressure in my chest, or maybe here or maybe here. But nothing painful.

64-year-old Susan Goodreds complained for years to her doctors about the discomfort in her chest. She also had high cholesterol.

Rhonda Barrett says her symptoms were also missed by doctors. Even though they fit the standard profile of heart trouble.

Rhonda Barrett: For seven days, I went to the hospital. I'm complaining of chest pain. Explaining that I had the elephant sensation on my chest. The crushing substernal chest pain. The nausea, the vomiting, the numbness and tingling in my left arm, and they kept telling me there is nothing wrong.

In Rhonda's case, a nurse finally ordered an EKG and stress test. The results showed her major arteries had been damaged and she was rushed to heart by-pass surgery.

Susan had to be her own advocate, insisting on additional blood tests and a non-invasive CT scan, not covered by insurance.

As a result of that CT scan, doctors discovered Susan had severe heart disease.

Soon after, she also had bypass surgery.

Now both women are speaking out, urging others to learn the warning signs and take control of their own heart health.

Goodreds: I found that women are treated a lot differently than men are treated, and also because of my age and because I appeared to be in good health and I don't have any family history.

Or if you have the reoccurring pain, if you have the recurring high blood pressure or you can't maintain your cholesterol, you've got to know these numbers and you've got to take action.

You've got to know your numbers, know what your options are. You just can't leave your heart health in somebody else's hands.

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