Get your red clothes out — but not for Valentine’s Day.

Wear red on Feb. 7 to support National Wear Red Day. Sponsored by the American Heart Association, National Wear Red Day represents an effort to end heart disease and stroke in women.

Heart Disease in Women

Heart disease includes a host of heart conditions which include, for example, coronary artery disease — damage or disease in the blood vessels usually from plaque buildup — and heart attack.

Heart disease is the single greatest threat to women’s health. According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease is the leading cause of death amongst women; it’s estimated that one in five will die from cardiovascular disease.

Fortunately, the future doesn’t need to be so bleak. The American Heart Association states that 80% of cardiac events are preventable so long as you’re taking the proper steps to prevent them.

How Can You Prevent Heart Disease?

All women should take steps to minimize their risk of heart disease. Those predisposed to heart disease should be especially astute.

Start by monitoring and improving blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Get regular checkups, eat healthily, and if your doctor prescribed medications for blood pressure or cholesterol, take them.

Also, limit alcohol consumption, quit smoking, and minimize stress — all actions that are easier said than done, but important.

Women with diabetes should work closely with their healthcare provider to manage sugar levels as chronic untreated diabetes can lead to significant cardiovascular problems.

Signs and Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women

Women suffer many of the same signs and symptoms as men, but with a few key differences. For example, both men and women may feel chest pain before a heart attack, but women are more likely than men to experience shortness of breath, jaw and back pain, and nausea before or during a heart attack.

Other symptoms of heart attack or stroke include:

  • Pressure, squeezing, or fullness in the chest that reoccurs or lasts more than a few minutes
  • Discomfort or pain in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Cold sweats
  • Lightheadedness
  • Sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arms, or legs (especially if only one side is affected)
  • Sudden confusion or difficulty speaking
  • Sudden onset of blurred vision
  • Sudden loss of balance and coordination
  • Sudden severe headache

Heart Attack “Ailments” Commonly Attributed to Less Severe Conditions

According to the Frequently Asked Questions page on the American Heart Association’s website, it’s very common for women to experience symptoms of a heart attack and chalk them up to flulike symptoms, reflux, and the aches and pains of aging. However, these ailments may be warning signs of a more serious heart problem, and they should be taken seriously.

While it’s second nature for many women to take care of everyone else first, we need to be aware of the signs of heart disease. It is, after all, the No. 1 cause of death in women.

If You Don’t Care About Your Heart, Maybe You’ll Care About Your Brain

If heart disease being the number one killer of women isn’t enough to make you want to reduce your risk, maybe the link between heart health and brain function will?

In a long-term study monitoring over 3,000 people, aged 18 to 30, for 25 years, even slightly elevated blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels were associated with lower scores on cognition tests at middle age (40s and 50s).

While the link between the heart and the brain continues to be researched, we now know that the health of your cardiovascular system at your current stage of life affects your risk for brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s later in life.

Kristine Yaffe, author of the abovementioned study and neuropsychiatrist, explains that the narrowing of the arteries leading to and in the brain is most likely why heart disease affects the brain. This is yet another reason to take your heart health seriously.

Go Red This February

Encourage the women in your life to get screened for heart disease this February. If you would like to support the Go Red for Women movement, you can purchase gear and learn more on the American Heart Association’s website.