The women of the United States are seeing red today. Or at least they should be, according to the American Heart Association.
The first Friday in February is National Wear Red Day to raise awareness of the occurrence of heart disease among women.
“Unfortunately, I think the Red campaign is targeted toward an older population,” said Deb Morris, director of Health Promotion at Hartshorn Health Service. “But all women need to be thinking about their hearts.”
The Center for Disease Control says cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the No. 1 killer of women older than 65, and the No. 3 killer of women ages 25 to 44. CVD is the cause of about 700,000 deaths each year in the U.S.
“I think instances of heart disease are hidden among the female population,” Morris said. “We know more about instances of heart disease among men, yet the disease is more prevalent among women at this point.”
Women account for 51 percent of CVD deaths in the United States each year.
Morris said that historically, CVD was primarily a male disease, until women entered the workforce.
“Years ago, women weren’t smoking, weren’t drinking, weren’t working in high-pressure jobs,” Morris said. “The more stress we’ve added to our life working stressful jobs and motherhood, the more we have, behaviorally, followed after men.”
Although younger women typically are not in imminent danger of CVD, women 25 and younger are beginning to form health habits that can add to what Morris calls “a cumulative effect.”
“If a young woman is sedentary, a smoker, and has dietary issues combined with a genetic propensity for heart problems, and she takes on a high stress job? It doesn’t look good for her,” Morris said. “What a woman does now accumulates and is predictive of her heart health, even her general health, years later.”
And yet, it seems that not all vices are bad. The Yale School of Medicine and numerous other institutions have studies that show a glass of red wine each day can be good for the heart.
However, Morris warns of the fine line presented by studies such as these.
“Does drinking directly affect the heart? Yes and no,” Morris said. “Alcohol in the bloodstream does not lead to heart damage itself, but because of what it does to the kidneys, brain and liver, the heart can’t escape that.”
There is also the caveat that women – and men – of perfect health are still at risk for CVD, strokes or other issues. Problems can still occur in what appears to be a healthy, positive person.
“Know your family history, eat healthily, stay active and avoid smoking,” Morris said. “You can take action to prevent heart disease now.”
Staff writer Hilary Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.