I’ll be wearing red tomorrow, and it’s not because it’s my favorite color or because I was born on Valentine’s Day. February 3 is National Go Red for Women Day, raising awareness of heart disease in women. As an ob-gyn, my career has centered on keeping women well, especially when they are pregnant. Heart disease is a formidable enemy for my patients and me, and its impact is hard to deny. Speaking of pregnancy, did you know that heart disease has become one of the major causes of maternal mortality in this country?
An estimated 42 million women in the US are living with heart disease, the no. 1 killer of American women. But despite its prevalence, heart disease in women can be hard to spot. Feeling tired (even after a full night’s rest) or anxious, having an irregular heartbeat, or having trouble breathing or sleeping can all signal heart disease, but are often overlooked or attributed to other problems.
Many times, the first symptom of a heart problem is a major cardiac event like a heart attack. Chest pain or discomfort is the main symptom of heart attack in both women and men. However, other more subtle cues—such as nausea; lightheadedness; shortness of breath; pain in the back, jaw, neck, or arms; and breaking out in a cold sweat—are more common in women. These symptoms may not seem to warrant special attention, but if you are experiencing them, consider it an emergency and seek medical attention right away. Brushing off these signs delays timely care and hampers recovery.
By donning red tomorrow, I’ll show my support for my patients and the fight against heart disease. So, go ahead and ask about my outfit. It’s an easy way to spark a conversation that could save a life.