Tomorrow, February 1, is National Wear Red Day® --time to don a red dress, shirt or tie and help raise awareness that heart disease is the leading cause of death among women.
Why Wear Red?
When the campaign began in 2003 as a partnership between the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the American Heart Association, heart disease was claiming the lives of nearly 500,000 American women each year. However surveys indicated that women were more concerned about other diseases and viewed heart disease as a problem for “older men.”
In reality, heart disease strikes more women than men, and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. While one in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, heart disease claims the lives of one in three. That’s roughly one death each minute.
The Wear Red campaign also works to dispel other dangerous myths about women and heart disease:
Myth: Heart disease is for old people.
Fact: Heart disease affects women of all ages. For younger women, the combination of birth control pills and smoking boosts heart disease risks by 20 percent. And while the risks do increase with age, other factors like overeating and a sedentary lifestyle can cause plaque to accumulate which can cause clogged arteries later in life. But even if you lead a healthy lifestyle, being born with an underlying heart condition can be a risk factor.
Myth: Heart disease doesn’t affect women who are fit.
Fact: Even if you’re a workout fanatic or marathon runner, your risk for heart disease isn’t completely eliminated. Other risk factors such as cholesterol, poor eating habits and smoking can “undo” your healthy habits. You can be thin and still have high cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends you start getting your cholesterol checked at age 20, or earlier, if your family has a history of heart disease. And be sure to keep an eye on your blood pressure and blood sugar levels as well.
Myth: I don’t have symptoms.
Fact: Sixty-four percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms. But since women’s symptoms are different than men’s, they’re often misunderstood. While men are more likely to have chest pain, women may experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain. Other symptoms women should look out for are dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen and extreme fatigue.
Myth: Heart disease runs in my family so there’s nothing I can do about it.
Fact: Although women with a family history of heart disease are at higher risk, that doesn’t mean that heart disease is unavoidable. Tell your doctor about your family medical history and work together to create an action plan to eat right, exercise and get regular checkups.
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of National Wear Red Day®. And looking back, we can see the impact that the movement has made:
- 21 percent fewer women dying from heart disease
- 23 percent more women aware that it’s their No. 1 health threat
- Publishing gender-specific research that established differences in symptoms and responses to medications, and women-specific guidelines for prevention and treatment
- Legislation to help end gender disparities
But there’s so much more to be done. Many women are still unaware of their risk for heart disease.
So, tomorrow, it’s more important than ever to go to your closet and pull out your favorite little red dress or snazzy red tie and show your support for National Wear Red Day®.
And since February is also Heart Month, we’ll be focusing on ways to help keep your ticker in good shape. Stay tuned or subscribe to our RSS feed and have our blog posts sent to your email box or favorite news reader.
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
American Heart Association – Go Red for Women