Women’s heart disease focus of National Wear Red Day luncheon

Deborah Pritchard

Red sweaters, red balloons, red hearts and red tablecloths filled Room 313 of the Student Center Friday in honor of National Wear Red Day.

More women die of heart disease than any other disease, Pam Belfiore, a registered nurse at the Robinson Memorial Hospital Cardiovascular Center, told a group of 40 women gathered to honor National Wear Red Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness of heart disease and stroke in women. Belfiore was part of “Wear Red for Women: Women’s Heart Health Lunch & Speaker.”

“About 500,000 women die of heart disease and stroke every year,” she said. One out of every three women dies of heart disease.

She said women are so busy that they often neglect themselves.

“We take care of everyone else, but we are not taking care of ourselves,” Belfiore said.

In the 1950s, studies only looked at men and heart

disease, she said.

Men usually develop heart disease between ages 40 and 50, and women don’t until age 55 to 65.

Belfiore said for this reason many of the available treatments and recognized symptoms of a heart attack are based on men’s health.

“Medications work differently on women than they do on men,” Belfiore said.

She said some symptoms of heart attack in women are pain in the chest or upper back, pain in the jaw or neck, flu-like symptoms, fatigue or weakness, feelings of anxiety, loss of appetite, malaise and shortness of breath.

“Shortness of breath is the most significant symptom we see in women,” she said.

Symptoms of heart attack in men are different. She said symptoms are substernal chest pain or pressure, pain while rested, pain down the left arm and shoulder and weakness.

“It’s important to trust your instincts,” Belfiore said.

She said she encourages women to visit their primary health care provider about heart health.

Some risk factors for heart disease can be changed, while others can not, Belfiore said. Risk factors that can be modified are high blood pressure, obesity, cigarette smoking, physical inactivity and psychological factors.

Belfiore said more aggressive cardiovascular risk-reduction strategies, such as lifestyle changes and medication, are recommended for those who are high-risk.

The number one preventable risk is tobacco use, she said. Health benefits of quitting smoking begin immediately.

“Female smokers have between two and six times (more) the risk of sudden cardiac death than nonsmokers,” Belfiore said.

Another significant factor is diabetes, she added.

Belfiore said two out of three people with diabetes die of cardiovascular diseases. Women with diabetes have a three to seven times greater risk of getting heart disease. Diabetes can be prevented if caught early by improving diet and physical activity levels.

Changing lifestyles is important to reducing risks.

“Exercise is one of the best things for you. It really helps with everything,” Belfiore said. “Exercise you do today will have an effect on you for the next 48 hours.”

The current focus is to take small steps to change, she said. A few ways to improve are choosing fat free over whole milk, sharing an entr‚e and parking farther from a store.

She said obesity, a growing epidemic in the United States, increases one’s risk of high blood pressure, cholesterol abnormalities and diabetes.

The Women’s Resource Center and HR Benefits Office sponsored the educational program developed by the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association.

Contact student life reporter Deborah Pritchard at [email protected].