You're never had any chest pains or shortness of breath, and you've certainly never had a heart attack. So you don't have heart disease, right? It's not that simple. First, the bad news: Gunk can build up for years in the arteries feeding your heart before you have a single noticeable symptom.

But here's the good news: A heart attack doesn't have to be the first clue that you have heart disease. Everyone, says Lee Lipsenthal, MD, medical director of the Ornish program, should have his or her cholesterol and blood pressure checked and should be screened for diabetes if it's in the family history. And don't mistakenly think your risk is low because you're a woman. When you encourage the men in your life to get to the doctor, remember yourself, too. Even though heart disease occurs more often and at younger ages in men, "heart disease is not just a guy's disease," according to Lipsenthal.

Talk to your doctor if you have any of the following risk factors; he or she can evaluate your risk and, if needed, order further tests.

Risk factors you can't control:

Family history of heart disease, especially in men younger than 55 or women younger than 65
Male gender
Black race
Advancing age (45 years or older for men, 55 years or older for women)

Risk factors you have some control over:

High cholesterol
High blood pressure
Smoking
Obesity
Physical inactivity
Diabetes
Stress
Alcohol abuse

Sources: Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.com); American Heart Association www.americanheart.org)">(www.americanheart.org); Lee Lipsenthal, MD.

—K.C.