Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women, so it's hard to believe females were once left out of research on heart attacks and strokes.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women, so it's hard to believe females were once left out of research on heart attacks and strokes.

"In the past, women have not been included in many of the studies that have been conducted on heart attacks and heart disease because scientists thought women's hormones would interfere," said Jill Steuer, a registered nurse and board member of the American Heart Association. Now, researchers must include minorities, including women, in proposals sent to the National Institutes of Health.

Technology has come a long way since research on women started about 15 years ago. Treatments and detection are very different, too. For example, catheters, the tubes used to examine the heart, are now manufactured smaller to fit women's vessels, Steuer said.

Cardiovascular disease claims one woman's life every minute, about 460,000 in 2004 (the most current research available)-that's more than cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, Alzheimer's disease, accidents and diabetes combined, according to the American Heart Association.

Heart disease comes in two forms: heart attacks and strokes. Heart attacks are caused when the vessels pumping blood to the heart become clogged, while strokes happen when vessels going to the brain are blocked.

Women and men experience heart attacks at about equal rates, but the symptoms differ, Steuer said. Women typically endure less detectable symptoms, such as extreme fatigue, back pain or nausea, as compared with the more familiar symptoms men experience, like crushing chest pain. In fact, not many people experience heart attacks like you've seen in the movies, where they grab their chest, groan and collapse.

Common heart attack symptoms for women include chest discomfort that lasts for more than a few minutes, pain in parts of the upper body (including the arms, back, stomach, neck or jaw), shortness of breath, cold sweat, nausea or light-headedness.

"If a woman is experiencing unknown symptoms, it's important for them to get medical help quickly," Steuer said. "That doesn't mean calling your doctor and making an appointment for the following week. Those are symptoms that you call 911 for."

By making lifestyle changes, women may be able to prevent heart disease. The American Heart Association suggests seeing a doctor regularly, exercising every week, following a healthy diet, monitoring cholesterol, not smoking and cutting salt intake.

Women can get involved with several different organizations to educate others about heart disease or donate to the cause. The biggest campaign locally, Go Red for Women, is sponsored by the American Heart Association. Money raised from local and national activities goes toward educational and community programs to help women learn about heart disease and lower their risk for having heart attacks or strokes.

Go Red for Women is capped off each year by a luncheon event in February, National Heart Month. "It started as a very small luncheon event," Steuer said. "It has now grown to 600 people."

This year's luncheon, scheduled for Feb. 19 at the Hyatt Regency Columbus, will include informational events, speakers and awards.

How to get involved:

American Heart Association
5455 N. High St.
Columbus, OH 43214


You'll find T-shirts, jewelry, ornaments, cookbooks and more in the American Heart Association's online boutique, and net proceeds benefit the organization and its programs-Go Red For Women, Power to End Stroke and Start!, which promotes heart-healthy lifestyles. The Go Red For Women boutique features great gift ideas, like ruby-red rhinestone brooches and Go Red-themed charm bracelets.

Dear Neighbor Campaign

Volunteers send educational materials and letters asking for donations to 12 to 15 neighbors, and then they mail any collected donations to the American Heart Association. Donations benefit programs in the local community. To get involved, call 800-464-7142.

Jump Rope For Heart/Hoops For Heart

Contact the American Heart Association's local Youth Market Manager to organize a fundraising event. In Franklin County, call Susan Leonard at 614-396-4381 or e-mail susan.leonard@heart.org.

Workplace Giving Program

Contact Mary Rasmussen, vice president of development for the American Heart Association, to set up an employee giving campaign in your office to benefit the American Heart Association. She can be reached at mary.rasmussen@heart.org or 800-282-0291, ext. 4407.