Last Friday, legions of University of Mississippi Medical Center employees donned the color red to show their support for women fighting heart disease. But the show of strength against the disease was also about raising awareness of what is now the No. 1 cause of death in women.
Part of a national campaign from the American Heart Association, Go Red for Women illustrates a problem facing Mississippi’s female residents, a health issue that for so long was considered only a major problem for men.
“The American Heart Association began the Go Red for Women movement eleven years ago to bring critical awareness to the fact that 1 in 3 women die each year of heart disease,” said Christopher Mims, spokesman for AHA Metro Jackson. “Since 1984, more women than men have died from heart disease, yet we found that many didn’t know they were at risk. Go Red seeks to raise awareness and alert women to the risk factors.”
University Heart staff members (l to r) Lauren Smith and Deborah Ward
The research is now showing that in the past, health-care professionals didn’t realize women were having heart attacks because the symptoms are different than the classic symptoms for men, said Dr. Jane Reckelhoff, director of the Women’s Health Research Center at UMMC.
“Women would go to ER with symptoms of neck pain, indigestion and uneasiness or anxiety, and be told, “You don’t have the symptoms of a heart attack”, said Reckelhoff. “But women don’t tend to have the ‘elephant on chest’ sensation, the aching pain in their left arms like men do. ”
“Studies also show that women are more likely to call an ambulance for a suspected heart attack for their husbands, but not for themselves, showing that we need to better educate women on how to recognize their own symptoms and how best to get treatment,” Reckelhoff said.
Yet even with differing symptoms, the risk of heart disease in women is very much the same as in men.
“Mississippi is in the bull’s-eye of the high-risk region in the country when we look at heart attack and heart disease rates,” said Dr. Tom Skelton, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at UMMC.
Those risks come from the state’s high rates of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes, he added, and those risks are equally as important for women as for men.
“The hard part is prevention,” said Skelton, who works at University Heart where he said most of the work in the facility is treating patients who already have heart disease.
“Programs like Go Red for Women are all about focusing earlier in the timeline to emphasize prevention, making women aware about dealing with those risk factors before they even get to the stage of having clinical heart disease,” he said.
School of Nursing faculty and staff