(WKBN) — As Feb. 1 kicks off American Heart Month, it’s a time to pay tribute and promote awareness around the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.

The term heart disease refers to several types of heart conditions, including coronary artery disease and heart attack. Although it’s sometimes thought of as a “man’s disease,” almost as many women as men die each year of heart disease.

Kendel Christoff, of Hubbard, has had two heart attacks. Her first was in December 2012.

“I had a 100% blockage in my right coronary artery,” Christoff said. “I was 32 years old.”

Her second heart attack happened in 2021, and she said it made her realize it was time to make some serious changes.

“We get so wrapped up in our own invincibility that we don’t recognize that this is affecting younger people,” Christoff said. “For women, it’s affecting them and killing them. It’s the No. 1 killer of women.”

She stopped smoking and started to focus on nutrition and exercise.

“It was probably the best, worst thing that could have ever happened because I was able to take that and build on it,” Christoff said. “It was a moment where you’re like, ‘This is terrible, I can’t believe this happened — what can I do to keep it from happening again?'”

Jennifer McNeil with the American Heart Association also recommends managing your stress and getting enough rest.

“Make an appointment with your doctor. Find out what your cholesterol is, find out what your blood pressure is,” McNeil said. “You should know where you stand in this world health-wise, and it can help you make decisions about your life moving forward.”

Classic signs of a heart attack include the following:

  • pain or tightness in the chest
  • shortness of breath
  • light-headedness
  • jack, neck, back or shoulder pain

The most important thing to do if experiencing any of these symptoms is to call 911 and get help right away.

“If my story can be the one that helps somebody stop and think and take a moment to really evaluate their health and their lifestyle, then it’s worth it,” Christoff said.