It has been 15 years since the first National Wear Red Day to raise awareness about heart disease being the No. 1 killer of women. How far have we come since then?
When the initiative first launched in 2003, the American Heart Association and the National Lung, Heart and Blood Institute sought to shine a light on the fact that despite what we see on TV or even hear from some doctors, heart disease isn’t just a problem for men.
So how was it possible for heart disease to kill more women every year than anything else but most people not know about it? Oh, just the deeply ingrained paternalism in medicine. In short, medical research and treatment has always been focused on diagnosing and treating men, not women. As it turns out, many conditions, like heart disease, have different symptoms in men and women, but because the men’s symptoms are the more widely known default symptoms, if they don’t show up in women, heart conditions are dismissed as a possible problem.
When we think of heart attack symptoms, chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue and pain in the left arm immediately come to mind. While those certainly can be present during a woman’s heart attack, the symptoms tend to be subtler, including indigestion, flu-like symptoms, anxiety, sleep disturbance, extreme fatigue and back, neck or jaw pain.
The good news is that since National Wear Red Day started, tremendous strides have been made, including:
- Almost 90 percent of women have made at least one healthy behavior change.
- More than one-third of women have lost weight.
- More than half of women have increased their exercise.
- 60 percent of women have improved their diets.
- More than 40 percent of women have monitored their cholesterol levels.
- One-third of women have developed heart health plans with their doctors.
- Women’s death caused by heart conditions has decreased by more than 30 percent over the past 10 years.
Despite the progress, there’s still a long way to go. Donations made to Go Red support educational programs to raise awareness of women’s risk for heart disease and stroke in addition to funding crucial medical research in the area.
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