Supporters of the Go Red for Women movement hope to see a sea of scarlet on Feb. 2 as part of the American Heart Association‘s national effort to end heart disease and stroke in women.
The annual observance was created in 2004 and adopted the red dress as its symbol. The campaign advocates for more research and awareness of the often-overlooked fact that heart disease isn’t just a health hazard for older men. It’s the number one killer of women, causing one in three deaths each year.
While chest pain, shortness of breath and cold sweats are obvious symptoms, a heart attack can happen without the person even knowing it. Those suffering a so-called “silent” heart attack sometimes pass off their symptoms as indigestion, the flu, asthma, anxiety, a strained muscle or some other condition.
What’s more, they may feel discomfort in their jaw, upper back or arms instead of their chest. Fatigue that’s prolonged, excessive and can’t be explained also may be a symptom of a silent heart attack.
Scarring and damage to the heart from such an attack can put the patient at greater risk of other heart issues.
A silent heart attack happens when plaque builds up in the coronary arteries and blocks the flow of blood. Risk factors include high blood pressure and high cholesterol, smoking, family history of heart disease, obesity and age.
Everyone knows what feels normal for them, so people should listen to their bodies and consult a doctor if something isn’t right. Those who suspect they’re having a heart attack should stay calm, call 911 immediately and be vocal when they get to the hospital about what’s going on. If they can’t speak up for themselves, they should bring along someone who will do it for them.
Another health challenge for both women and men is atherosclerosis, often called hardening of the arteries. It’s caused by a buildup of plaque – cholesterol, cellular waste products, calcium and fatty substances – in the inner lining of an artery. Atherosclerosis typically starts in childhood and often progresses as people age.
Family history, high cholesterol and blood pressure, smoking or exposure to tobacco smoke, excess weight, a sedentary lifestyle and diabetes can increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis.
Plaque is especially dangerous when it becomes fragile and ruptures, causing blood clots to form. Those can break off and travel elsewhere in the body. Clots can cause a heart attack or a stroke if they block blood vessels to the heart or brain.
Knowledge is power, and 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes, the heart association says.
On Feb. 2, and throughout the year, women are encouraged to “go red” by following an exercise routine, eating more healthful foods, visiting a doctor for a regular checkup or tests when necessary and educating others about heart health.
For more information, go online to www.goredforwomen.org.