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National Wear Red Day is February 7th.
Why do we wear red? To increase awareness of women’s heart health. According to the University of Chicago Medical Center, “though women tend to develop heart disease about ten years later than men do, it’s still the leading cause of death for both sexes.” And women who experience a heart attack are less likely to survive it.
While some risk factors for heart disease affect both men and women (smoking, excessive alcohol use, obesity, unhealthy diet, lipid disorders – high LDL cholesterol and high triglycerides, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, and diabetes), women have some additional risk factors:
- A drop in estrogen during menopause – estrogen is thought to be “heart-protective”, so the risk of heart issues increases after menopause
- History of high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia, or high blood sugars during pregnancy
- Metabolic syndrome (higher prevalence in women than men)
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
Women may also experience different symptoms when having a heart attack. Women may notice unusual fatigue, anxiety, lightheadedness, or sleep disturbance. Some of these early signs may go on for several weeks before the more traditional symptoms of chest, jaw or arm pain, nausea, shortness of breath, or chest pressure begin.
In a 2012 survey published in the journal Circulation, only 65% of women said they’d call 911 if they thought they might be having a heart attack. 85% of heart damage happens in the first two hours following a heart attack, so please don’t hesitate to call 911 if you’re experiencing any unusual symptoms.
While there is a lot of publicity about reducing your risk factors for developing heart disease (don’t smoke, don’t drink excessively, eat a healthy diet of fresh, organic foods that are low in saturated fats, exercise 15-30 minutes daily, reduce stress, avoid obesity, get annual blood test screenings of your lipid and blood sugar levels, and take prescribed medications per your healthcare provider’s advice), these efforts can’t guarantee that you won’t have a heart attack. If you feel new or unusual symptoms, take action quickly to get a medical assessment (paramedics can do an EKG in your home and, if you are having a heart attack, they can give you medications immediately to reduce heart damage).
Don’t risk your life by ignoring subtle signals your heart may be sending you. If you don’t feel right, call 911.
Marla LeFevre, RN
Director of Health Services