Get a Hold On Your Heart – Heart Disease in Women

By Tracy Morris

Get a Hold On Your Heart - Heart Disease in WomenA sleek, sultry women in her 40s or 50s glides from the door of her limo over the red carpet entrance – only to trip and stumble embarrassingly in front of her adoring crowd. The message of this advertising campaign from a few years back: even a person’s shining outward appearance can belie some uglier inner truths (in this case, the truth was high cholesterol.)

But really – once we got over the schadenfreude, that feeling of secret happiness in someone else’s folly – did we go from watching the lovely lady tumble to making health-promoting changes in our lifestyles? For younger women especially, high cholesterol and other elements of heart disease seem primarily a problem for older women, obese women, and just generally someone else.

The dilemma: How to ‘sexy up’ heart disease?

The stats – phenomenally powerful facts, though they are — can be eye-glazing:

• Heart disease is the Number 1 killer of American women

• One in four women dies of heart disease

• Some heart disease risk factors have greater impact on women than men

• Women are more likely than men to die from heart disease

Are we hearing the message?

Pamela Morris, MD, Director of Preventive Cardiology and Co-director of Women’s Heart Care at the Medical University of South Carolina, says that waking audiences up has been a big part of her job as a physician, public speaker, and Assistant Professor of Medicine.

“It’s really hard to time and time again make some of these messages fresh and interesting. It’s interesting to me what a remarkable job the breast cancer research campaigns have done in capturing the minds of women. Not that breast cancer isn’t important, but you’re ten times as likely to die from heart disease as you are from breast cancer.”

In fact, one 2005 survey by the Society for Women’s Health Research revealed that while increasing numbers of women are starting to be concerned about their risk of heart disease, most still fear cancers (of the breast, ovaries, and lungs, respectively) more than heart disease.

Dr. Morris offers this quote from women’s health advocate Nanette Wenger, MD, Chief of Cardiology at Grady Memorial Hospital, Emory University School of Medicine: “The community has viewed women’s health almost with a ‘bikini approach’, looking essentially at the breasts and reproductive system, and almost ignoring the rest of the woman as part of women’s health.”