DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – Fifty eight-year-old Jay Thomas never worried about her heart.

“You worry about your husband dying of a heart attack.  You don’t think of yourself as having a problem,” she said.

This year, though, she was the one getting open heart surgery.

“I’d walk up the stairs and run out of breath. I thought it was because I was 57 and hormonal,” she said.

Heart disease is the number of killer of women in the U.S., responsible for one in every four deaths.

That still hasn’t sunk in with most people.

“We all kind of think of men getting heart disease, first, when we think of heart disease.  And certainly in the 1950’s and 60’s, most men got heart disease in their 60’s,” said Dr. Cara East, a cardiologist at Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital.

Modern medicine has changed that, pushing back the onset of heart disease, evening the odds and improving them for both genders.

Today, it claims as many women, as it does men.

Women, though, are twice as likely to suffer atypical symptoms, says Dr. East, ones that won’t have them clutching their chest.

“They’re exercising and the arm will hurt – and it’s the right arm – or they’re exercising and it’s in between the shoulder blades, they get this discomfort – or they’re exercising and they got jaw pain,” said Dr. East.

She suggests, if you can’t exercise as well as you used to, or you’re feeling strange pressure or discomfort, you may want to get your heart checked, especially if you’re at risk for heart disease.

“It’s all so scary, but they’ve got it down,” said Thomas.

She’s now feeling better and more energetic after a valve replacement.

“They caught it early so it hadn’t progressed,” she said.

To cut your risk of heart disease, doctors suggest you eat healthy, exercise, keep your weight down, and avoid alcohol and tobacco.

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