More than 100,000 women in Northern Ireland are living with heart and circulatory disease, a charity has warned.
Each year around 2,000 women here die from conditions such as heart attack and stroke.
The British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland (BHF NI) said the figures “dispel the myth” that heart disease is a ‘man’s disease’.
It claims more research is needed to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
The charity is campaigning to raise awareness of women and heart disease to mark World Heart Day today.
Karen McCammon from BHF NI said: “These figures reveal the high and growing burden of heart and circulatory disease in Northern Ireland.”
Frances Kane (32) from north Belfast, who was diagnosed with heart disease at just 27, is urging women to be wary of the risks.
She explained how doctors told her she had been heading for a massive heart attack.
“I have always been an active person. I ran the Belfast marathon in 2007. I exercised regularly, ate well, had a healthy weight and never smoked so I always considered myself fit and healthy,” Frances said.
“I started to get chest pains any time I exerted myself.
“Things like walking up a steep hill, carrying something up the stairs or I was running to catch a bus; but I didn’t imagine it could be anything serious.
“I also started to get pains in my left arm, but again I just ignored it as something muscular.
“You hear these symptoms as being indicative of cardiac issues, but it wasn’t something I ever expected would happen to me when I was only 27.”
Frances, who was studying for her PhD at the time, was repeatedly told that she had asthma and allergies and even stress, but was eventually referred to the cardiac outpatient’s clinic.
“My dad had a heart attack when he was in his early 40s. The doctor said it was unlikely that I had heart disease,” she added.
“But given the family history she said she would send me for a treadmill test, but we never actually thought I would have trouble with my heart, it was more a case of ruling it out until we moved onto the next thing.
“After a treadmill ECG I then had an angiogram that showed I had 70% stenosis in one of my main arteries and they had to put a stent in.
“I was incredibly shocked and upset that something like this could happen to me when I felt I had done everything according to what the experts say regarding maintaining a healthy body.
“Afterwards I struggled to understand why this happened to me, I did everything right. The specialist told me I had been on my way to a massive heart attack. That was very hard to hear when I was so young.”
Frances attended cardiac rehabilitation classes for six weeks and is now back to good health but takes daily medication.
Karen McCammon from BHF NI said Frances’s story shows heart disease isn’t just a man’s disease, but can even happen to fit and active young women.
“We urgently need to fund more research to better understand the impact of heart disease and help develop new and better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat it,” she added.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is an umbrella term for diseases including coronary heart disease, angina, heart attack and stroke. An estimated 3.5 million women are living with CVD in the UK.