Deborah Ferguson, NBCDFW.com
The face of heart disease isn't what you think it is.
What was once thought of as a man's disease, heart dieseas is now a woman' s No. 1 health threat. The next stereotype to break down is which women are at risk.
"In my experience, the reason women get missed is one, a lack of appreciation," said Dr. Amit Khera, a cardiologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. "The women who particularly get missed, in my experience, are young women."
"It is the whole stigma that heart disease only effects old men and old women and that's not the case. I was 29," explained Alexandra Wall of Fort Worth.
Wall remembers she feared what she felt in her chest was a heart attack.
Wall said she would "kind of like hold my breath almost or I would cough a lot 'cuz I would feel like my heart wasn't beating, like it wasn't getting a beat. It was like butterflies wings in my chest," she recalled.
"I had some issues when I had my son," she said. "I had fluid retention, and fluid around my heart."
And if their early troubles don't get your attention, listen to this from Khera: "This doesn't start in 20s, 30s or 40s, this starts in childhood and teens. There's a recent study that shows your risk factors at 9 years old can predict your risk of heart disease several decades later."
And so can family history, something Khera said some women don't get.
"If you have four people around you that died at a young age of heart disease, you're in trouble. And frankly, that means you need to be screened sooner both for risk factors and occasionally some other testing so that you can do things sooner to avoid heart disease," Khera cautioned.
Small changes early in life, like fewer bad foods and more activity can lead to greater returns later.
Five years after her scare, Bristo is healthier and credits a new lifestyle that included regular exercise and better food choices.
"I cut a lot of sodium and fat out of my diet. I drink more water," Bristo said.
Alexandra finally got help with her second cardiologist. Now 31, Bristo was diagnosed with an arrhythmia - her heart beats too fast, not life-threatening but something to watch. And with her experience, something to keep in mind.
"Each day is so special and if you can only do one or two things to make a difference to your heart health, it's amazing what you can achieve in the long run," said Wall.
"I think if we can get the word out, more women will be aware of doing the right things to prevent themselves from developing heart disease," echoed cardiologist Sreenivas Gudimetla. "That's the biggest challenge right now, changing perceptions and educating women that they're at a higher risk of heart disease than a lot of other conditions."