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Carrie Fisher's Death Raises Questions About Women's Heart Disease

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The Star Wars universe will never be the same again after losing beloved cast member Carrie Fisher, who passed away on Tuesday, Dec. 27, after having been hospitalized for heart attack last week.

Fisher's sudden death has now placed the spotlight on an ongoing public health issue that is often taken for granted: heart disease.

Carrie Fisher's Heart Attack

According to reports, Fisher was on a Dec. 23 flight from London to Los Angeles when she suffered a heart attack about 15 minutes before their plane landed at LAX.

An emergency worker who was also on the flight at the time performed CPR on the veteran actress while they were still on the plane. Once the plane arrived at the airport, paramedics continued to administer CPR for another 15 minutes before they were able to get a pulse from Fisher.

Fisher was later taken to a Los Angeles hospital, where she stayed in intensive care before passing away on Tuesday.

Heart Disease Among Women

Fisher is only one of many women whose lives have been affected by heart illness.

More than one in three women are living with cardiovascular disease, making it one of the biggest threats to women's health. What's even sadder is that many of those with the ailment aren't aware they have it.

Dr. Jennifer Mieres, a radiology professor at the Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine in New York, said heart disease is the leading cause of death among women, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined.

Data from the American Heart Association (AHA) shows that a woman dies from a stroke, heart attack, or sudden cardiac arrest every minute.

While often mistaken for each other, a sudden cardiac arrest is different from a heart attack since it is not caused by a blockage in the heart that eventually stops the normal flow of blood. Rather, it involves a stoppage in the heart's electrical system, which prevents blood from being pumped the correct way it should.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about two-thirds of women who succumbed to heart disease suddenly showed no symptoms of the illness prior to their death.

Women also seem to become more susceptible to heart attacks about 10 years after they enter menopause. Researchers, however, have yet to determine the exact cause for this phenomenon.

Cardiologist Dr. Jay Stone from the Community Medical Center in New Jersey said women are likely to experience more atypical symptoms compared to men. These include a burning sensation in the chest, weakness or shortness of breath, and palpitations.

Recent estimates reveal that about 90 percent of all women show one or more risk factors for heart disease. However, about 80 percent of these heart problems can still be prevented by maintaining control of risk factors, according to the AHA.

Women can keep their risk factors from progressing by having a healthy diet, exercising regularly, maintaining proper weight, and avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol.

It's also a good idea to work with doctors to closely monitor blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels to make sure that heart disease risks are low.

A type of fat in your blood known as triglycerides should also be kept at a healthy minimum because having too much of these could lead to the hardening of arteries.

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