This month is full of red hearts for Valentine’s Day. It is also when attention is focused on heart disease, the leading cause of death for Black women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Demonstrations throughout the country this month raised awareness for heart disease. The most widespread demonstration was the National Wear Red Day on Feb. 7, sponsored by the American Heart Association’s ‘Go Red for Women’ campaign.
Howard University Hospital will host events throughout the month, including a Red Dress display, a Heart Love Luncheon for patients, free heart screenings, and a prevention and wellness outreach day that will include special, heart-healthy meals in the hospital cafeteria and giveaway items. “We want people to become educated on how to better care for their hearts and consequently live healthier and longer lives,” said Dr. Michelle A. Albert, chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine and director of Cardiovascular Disease Research.
Heart disease is most commonly caused by plaque build-up on the main artery walls, which makes it difficult for oxygen-rich blood to reach the heart. This causes the heart to strain itself, while also causing blood clots.
There are many misconceptions about women and heart disease, one being that cancer kills more women than heart disease. For women, heart disease is more deadly than all forms of cancer, according to the American Heart Association. Over 42 million American women are currently living with heart disease, and one in three women die from it. Another misconception is that young women can’t have heart disease. Women as young as 19 have are living with heart disease.
“I was so shocked when my doctor told me that I was having heart complications,” said Brenda Crawford, 58. “I wasn’t having chest pains or anything like that.”
Many women don’t realize they are living with heart disease because they mistake their symptoms for the flu, stress, or a small cold. One of the obvious signs of heart complications is a heart attack. While the sign for men having a heart attack is chest pain, women experience more subtle symptoms, including dizziness, lightheadedness, sweating, and jaw pain.
As with any disease, it is important to recognize the warning signs and act quickly. Often women don’t experience symptoms at all. Studies show that 64 percent of women who die suddenly of heart disease have no previous symptoms, according to the American Heart Association.
Risk factors for heart-related illnesses include smoking, stress, obesity, and family history. Dieting and physical activity can lower heart disease risks by 80 percent. Some easy ways to incorporate physical activity into your day are walking the dog, dancing, and gardening.
While heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S. there are plenty of organizations with support and information on how to live with it. For more information about heart disease and how to donate to this cause, visit goredforwomen.org.