Ask a woman which disease is the number one killer of women in the United States and she’ll likely tell you that it’s breast cancer or maybe cervical cancer.
She’d be wrong.
Cardiovascular disease takes the lives of more women than all cancers combined, says the American Heart Association.
“Ninety percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease and they don’t even know it,” says Dr. Vyshali Rao, a cardiologist at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena.
Rao is also a board member of the American Heart Association, which is launching this new public service announcement as part of its 2013 Go Red For Women campaign.
The women portrayed in the new educational spots for TV, radio and online represent the estimated 43 million U.S. women who are afflicted with heart disease – many of whom have no idea they’re lives are at risk, says Rao.
“There was a trend…that more and more women didn’t realize exactly what their cardiovascular risk was,” Rao says.
And that's especially true of younger women. Due largely to poor diet and lack of exercise, they're now developing heart disease at much earlier ages.
“That’s actually one of the frightening things. You would think that people who suffer from heart attack or stroke would be 70s, 80s, 90s," says Rao. "We’re actually finding that younger and younger people are coming into the hospital with heart attacks and strokes.”
For the past 20 years, heart disease in the U.S. has killed more women annually than men. That trend prompted the American Heart Association 10 years ago to launch its Go Red for Women campaign.
The centerpiece of this year’s effort is a new website that includes an interactive heart attack risk calculator, heart disease prevention tips, healthy recipes and real stories, like this one from Army reservist Gail Alexander-Wright:
Among the campaign's goals is to educate women that heart attack symptoms in females often don’t involve chest pain. Instead, they frequently show up as seemingly innocuous symptoms that mimic typical neck, back pain and jaw pain, shortness of breath, heart palpatations and even stomach upset.
“They’ll think it’s gas or they’ll think it’s flu or they’ll think it’s a virus they picked up and they’ll wait,” Rao says. “And so what we find a lot of times is by the time a woman actually gets to the hospital, she’s actually been having symptoms of a heart attack for several hours.”
Just how that can happen is portrayed in this video vignette called, “Just A Little Heart Attack.”
To help spread its message and to encourage visits to its GoRedForWomen.org website, the AHA is urging everyone to wear something red Feb. 1, 2013.
“We’re really encouraging everyone, including men … to get out there and put on their red shirts, red scarves, red ties or red lipstick, and really try to embrace our message that we’re trying to get across to everyone,” Rao says.