View All Articles

Go Red! Learn How Heart Disease Affects Women—And How You Can Protect Yourself

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “listen to your heart.” Usually, that advice means to follow your instincts, but when it comes to heart health, people—especially women—should really listen to their hearts and understand what their hearts are saying.

Of course, hearts don’t talk, but they can still provide signs about their wellbeing—signs that people—particularly women, may ignore. That’s why the American Heart Association’s Go Red campaign is such an important one. Started in 2004, Go Red provides education and raises awareness about heart disease and heart health, specifically for women.

Understanding heart disease and heart health for women 

Why do women need education about heart health? While heart disease can affect everyone, it takes a particular toll on women—and is often unrecognized. Did you know:

Some types of heart diseases affect women more than men, such as coronary microvascular disease (MVD), which damages tiny arteries in the heart, and broken heart syndrome, which is severe but usually short-term heart muscle failure, brought on by extreme emotional stress. Less research has been done on these types of heart disease than on coronary heart disease, which is more common in men and women.

In addition to being affected by different types of heart disease, even the more common ones can affect women differently than men. Some diseases, like endometriosis, diabetes and pregnancy-induced hypertension, only affect women, and increase the risk of coronary artery disease. In addition, during some cardiology procedures, treating certain heart conditions, such as bypass surgery, pacemaker/defibrillator implantation, women can experience more complications than men.

When a woman has a heart attack, she may not experience the typical feeling of a crushing weight in her chest, and without that definitive symptom, she may ignore some of the subtler symptoms. 

The American Heart Association lists these heart attack symptoms in women:

  1. Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest, which may go away and come back.
  2. Pain in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  3. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  4. Other signs, including nausea, lightheadedness or breaking into a sweat.

Women who experience these symptoms should call 9-1-1 right away.

Preventing Heart Disease

The CDC says certain factors increase the risk of heart disease. 

  • High blood pressure
  • High LDL cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • rel="noopener noreferrer"
  • Diabetes
  • Being overweight
  • Poor diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Excessive alcohol use 

But there’s some good news—many of these factors are controllable, and taking preventative steps can reduce your risk by up to 80%. Early detection and action is key--even if you have no symptoms. 

Talk with your doctor about your risk factors and ways to lower your blood pressure, cholesterol or weight. Stop smoking and guard against exposure to second hand smoke. Eat a healthy diet emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. Be physically active every day and try to walk at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week.

Check out Go Red for Women and wear red on February 2nd for National Wear Red Day to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease. The Go Red site provides excellent information about heart health, and is a source of educational and inspirational stories of women who are taking charge of their wellbeing.

And always, listen to your heart.

Related Articles