For some reason, we women just don't get it.
We don't understand that cardiovascular disease is responsible for more deaths in women than breast cancer, 17 times more every year. And we don't seem to be aware that more women die of heart disease nationwide than men.
We've learned to examine our breasts monthly or suffer through mammograms annually to stay on top of breast cancer, all while our heart health is on the back burner — if cooking at all.
Part of the reason, said Ed Jutt, director of the Heart Institute at St. Joseph Hospital, is that women tend to be the caregivers, making sure spouses and children are cared for. Plus, in the early years of heart-disease studies, women were not the focus, sometimes leaving the impression that cardio vascular disease was a man thing.
"As the American Heart Association and people who deal with hearts regularly can tell you, that is not the case," Jutt said.
One problem is that the symptoms of a heart attack are different for women or we might not experience them the same way. While men get a more dramatic, chest-clutching, crushing blow as a signal, women don't seem to experience that, he said.
"They may get the twinge down the arm, but they don't think that is heart-related," Jutt said.
They don't connect sweats or lower back pain with a heart attack either. All of those symptoms are assigned a reason easily found in daily activities. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, light-headedness, nausea and discomfort in the upper body or chest.
The risk factors for heart disease are basically the same for men and women: high cholesterol, hypertension, poor diet and obesity, smoking, diabetes and lack of exercise.
To help bring awareness to women's risks of heart disease, the American Heart Association has set Friday as its fifth annual National Wear Red Day, part of the Go Red for Women heart-health awareness movement.
Women and men are encouraged to wear red clothing to help remind women to think of their heart health.
Heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases are the No. 1 killers of women in Kentucky. An estimated 19 women die in the state from heart disease and stroke every day.
"It is important for women to talk with their doctors about this," said Mike Turner, special events director for the Lexington office of the American Heart Association.
On Friday, he said, St. Joseph Hospital nurses and technicians will be available at Macy's in Fayette Mall from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m., to conduct screenings, which will include blood pressure readings. They also can talk with women about their risk factors. "And they will get a free red dress pin," he said.
Women can go online to www.goredforwomen.org to learn of risk factors associated with heart disease and to read stories about women who had heart attacks. A free heart disease assessment also is available at www.knowmyheart.com, Jutt said.
"It takes about seven minutes," he said. "If it appears you are at risk, you will have the choice to have someone follow up with you. A nurse will call if you like to make an appointment for a free face-to-face assessment."
It is time to give combating heart disease a higher priority in our busy lives, ladies.
Don't discard the pink ribbons. Just pick up a little red dress to go with them.