National Wear Red Day is the first Friday in February when women are encouraged to wear red to raise awareness about heart disease, the number one killer of women. “This is something that is personally dear to my heart,” stated Dr. Heather Stahura. She recently joined Capital Cardiology Associates in the summer of 2018 and is on a mission to educate women on their risk of heart disease, including the steps they can take to prevent becoming a statistic. “It’s fascinating, I will talk to women and ask them what health issue they think is their biggest worry. Unanimously women will tell me breast cancer. Statistically, breast cancer will affect 1 out of 8 women but most women will do well, thanks to the research and advancements in treatment over the past few years. The staggering fact is 1 out of every three women will die of a cardiovascular disease issue over the span of their lives. That’s our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our friends. I think that is what the Go Red for Women (movement) is about informing us of our risk, starting that conversation with our doctor, and making the change to live our healthiest life.”
Heart disease includes more than a risk of heart attack or stroke
Part of educating women on their risk of heart disease requires breaking old stereotypes. “People constantly think of heart disease as being an older person issue, and it’s not,” said Dr. Stahura. A survey of more than 4,000 healthy individuals with an average age of 30 found that over 65% were unable to identify any of the six major cardiac risk factors. “In my short career, so far I have taken care of people who have had heart attacks in their 20’s and 30’s. These are people with high cholesterol in their 30’s, blood pressure issues starting in their teens.” The Women’s Heart Alliance 2014 survey reported that 45% of all women surveyed reported being unaware that cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of death for women. “We need to break the myth that heart disease doesn’t happen to us because it does – it is – and we are failing to identify it,” said Dr. Stahura.
Recognizing heart attack or stroke
“In movies and TV shows you see this picture of an older gentleman clutching his chest, having the “typical” signs of chest pain,” explained Dr. Stahura. In reality, heart attack symptoms aren’t the same for everyone, especially women. In a Twitter post from December 9, 2018, a female nurse shared her story. “I want to warn women our heart attacks feel different. Last Sunday I had a heart attack. I had a 95% block in my left anterior descending artery. I’m alive because I called 911. I never had chest pain. It wasn’t what you read in pamphlets. I had it off & on for weeks.” She called 911 after being drenched in sweat, after she started vomiting.
I’m a nurse. I’m an older woman. I had been spending the week helping my neighbor clean out her barn, I thought I strained some muscles. I took Motrin & put a warm pack on my shoulders, I almost died because I didn’t call it chest pain.— gwheezie (@geewheezie) December 9, 2018
I am also a RN. I had a heart attack Dec. 21, 2016, age 60. I woke up at 2am with an elephant on my chest. I hosted a family Christmas the evening before. In hindsight I was having angina periodically for months thinking it was episodes of anxiety. I'm the recipient of 3 stents.— Peg (@PegIsRetired) December 10, 2018
Women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain. Dr. Stahura cautions women to listen to their body, to be aware of sensations, feelings, or severe pain that persists for more than 15 minutes. “A lot of women that I care for started with jaw pain or abnormal neck pain which came out of nowhere. A lot of women will have numbness, tingling in their hands, maybe some upper back pain where they think they did too much activity the day before. Acid reflux, consistently having reflux that is not improved with over the counter medications. These women are having a heart attack when I see them.”
Stroke is the third leading cause of death for women (in comparison, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death for men). Each year 55,000 more women have a stroke than men. “But when you ask the question, more people think it’s men. We need to talk more about the stroke risk for women,” proclaimed Dr. Stahura. Because in general women live longer than men, a stroke will have a more negative impact on their lives. The National Stroke Association states that more women will “live alone when they have a stroke, be more likely to live in a long term health care facility after a stroke, and have a worse recovery after stroke.”
Not only do women need to be aware of symptoms but they also need to respond faster during a cardiac emergency. A recent study conducted at the Triemli hospital in Zurich, Switzerland, found that women wait 37 minutes longer to seek treatment for heart attack compared to men. Dr. Stahura expressed this comes from not recognizing symptoms but also due to putting their family before their health needs. “I will ask women, ‘What caused you to wait, two days, three days, before seeking help?’ They tell me they have to care for their family. Women are tough. We have this innate sense of being caretakers, focusing on other’s needs before our own. Today, I want women to know, our health should be first too.”
Well Woman Visit
There is a reason National Wear Red Day falls at the beginning of American Heart Month. This month, health care professionals urge all women to discuss their heart health with their doctor. In the 2014 study by The Women’s Heart Alliance, approximately 71% of women did not mention heart health during a visit with a physician. “As a cardiologist, I will start by asking about your health history, what issues you have had in the past,” said Dr. Stahura. Expect a conversation on the risk factors that put you at an increased risk of heart disease. This would be blood pressure, high cholesterol, and if you’re a smoker. “I’ll also address your cancer history. Many patients that have had breast cancer, lymphomas, or leukemia and have had chemo or radiation, as well as therapies to the chest, that put them at risk of undiagnosed or undetected cardiovascular events.”
The goal of the Well Woman Visit is to asses your risk of heart disease and work with your physician on a plan live your best life. “Relationships are not built over one or two visits. I enjoy meeting with my patients and talking about their life. I want to hear about the areas of stress or changes in their life that could impact their overall health.”
Written by: Michael Arce, Marketing Coordinator, Capital Cardiology Associates
Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.