Chattanooga, Tenn. – Erlanger Health System, in partnership with the American Heart Association, celebrated the association’s “Go Red for Women” campaign today with a joint proclamation from Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield and Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger.
The event, hosted by Erlanger President and CEO Charlesetta Woodard Thompson, launched the “Go Red” national campaign in Chattanooga — a movement created by women, for women, dedicated to uncovering the truth about women and heart disease: heart disease can kill you or a woman you love.
During the event, Dr. Carol Gruver, cardiologist with UT Erlanger Cardiology, discussed the differences between heart attack symptoms for men and women. Mayor Littlefield read the official proclamation, and Dr. Melanie Blake of Academic Internal Medicine, presented initiatives for the Go Red movement on both a national and local level.
Today, all babies born at Erlanger will receive a red cap from the American Heart Association. Throughout the month of February, Erlanger and other area businesses are illuminating buildings with the color red in support of the Go Red initiative.
Below are some highlights from Dr. Gruver’s discussion on women and heart disease:
Heart disease is a big problem for women. Each year 500,000 women die of a heart attack in the US – that amounts to about 1 woman dying of heart disease every minute.
Since 1984, more women than men have died of CVD and the gap continues to widen.
Despite these sobering statistics, many women perceive cancer-particularly breast cancer- to be their greatest risk. In reality, more than two times as many women die each year from heart disease than from all cancers combined.
Currently less than 60% of women correctly identify heart disease as the #1 cause of death in women but only about 16% of women believe it to be their biggest threat to life.
So why is there this disconnect between women’s perceptions and women’s reality? I think it’s related to many tightly-held myths out there that are difficult to debunk. A popular myth that still persists is that “Women don’t have heart attacks. It’s a man’s disease.”
Who hasn’t seen Hollywood’s version of what a heart attack looks like? It’s typically an overweight middle-aged man, perhaps smoking a cigarette or eating a donut- who develops sudden onset of severe chest pain, clutches his chest, and soon collapses. Women are less likely to present in such a dramatic fashion and are less likely to have typical crushing chest pain.
In fact, as many as 40% of women don’t present with chest pain at all but have unusual or atypical symptoms that may include unexplained shortness of breath, pain in the shoulder, arm, mid back or upper abdomen. Women are more likely to have nausea, vomiting, feel faint, black out, or experience excessive fatigue as the dominant symptom. Some women present with stroke-like symptoms or confusion.
These atypical symptoms often result in denial in the part of women that they could be having a heart attack and leads to delays in treatment On average, women with heart attack symptoms present to the hospital 1 hour later than men. 38% of women who have their first heart attack will die within 1 year, compared to 25% of men. Under the age of 50, women’s heart attacks are twice as likely to be fatal compared to men.
Another commonly held myth is that Heart disease is for old women. While it is true that the incidence of heart disease increases as women age particular after the age of 60, younger women should not be complacent.
Younger women are afforded some protection against heart disease due to the protective actions of estrogen. Smoking, abnormal blood lipids, and diabetes erase a woman’s estrogen protection.
Despite an overall reduction in heart-related deaths in the population, there is an alarming trend among younger women. Women between the ages of about 35 and 45 are dying from heart attacks at an increase rate over the last few years. This increase is felt to be largely related to the epidemic of diabetes and obesity in this country.
A common myth that I hear in both women and men is that heart attacks are random events. There is nothing random about a heart attack. A heart attack represents the final step in a process that has been going on for a long time. Fatty deposits build up in the arteries that supply the heart blood and oxygen but this is a process that has been going on for years, even decades. The person who has a heart attack today did not have normal arteries last week.
It has been estimated that 80-90% of heart disease could be prevented by proper diet, exercise, and management of risk factors such as high BP, cholesterol, smoking, and diabetes
Given the long time-course leading up to a heart attack, we are never too young to start preventing one. Risk factor management is even more important for women than men, particularly in regards to diabetes.
Here at Erlanger we are dedicated to Women’s Heart Health. We understand that when it comes to our hearts, women are different than men and a one size-fits-all approach won’t work. Our state of the art imaging capabilities, clinical research, screening programs, and interventional capabilities, along with our dedicated staff of cardiologists and nurses, give us unique capabilities in the prevention and treatment of heart disease in women.