The Heart of a Woman in a Red Dress

Posted on Jan 23, 2017

It is usually assumed that heart disease affects mostly men. But according to the World Health Federation, heart disease is the #1 killer of women globally, killing more women than all forms of cancers, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.


It is usually more difficult to diagnose heart disease in women for several reasons.  Women do not perceive heart disease as a threat to their health and are more scared of cancer. Hence, they don’t have their hearts checked. Instead, they prioritize taking care of their loved ones and not themselves.  But more importantly, the symptoms for heart disease present differently in women than in men. Instead of the usual chest pain or chest heaviness seen in men,  symptoms of neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, pain in the arms or even simple sweating may be a sign that a woman is having a heart attack.  These are common complaints that women have which they attribute to fatigue and just pass them off or ignore them.    All of these reasons lead to a delay of diagnosis. Because of this reluctance to have themselves evaluated, when they are finally diagnosed, they are already older and sicker, and may have other illnesses making their treatment more difficult and their prognosis worse.   But the good news is, education, prevention, and even a little red dress can save women’s lives.   With knowledge of the right facts, women can be empowered to take action to protect their hearts.


The first step toward heart health is to know your cardiovascular risk profile.  A risk factor is a condition or a habit that makes a person more likely to develop a disease and may also worsen an existing disease.  There are risk factors you can do something about and some you cannot change. The modifiable risk factors are: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes/prediabetes, smoking, being overweight or obese, being physically inactive, unhealthy diet. The risk factors you cannot change are age and family history.  For women, age becomes a risk factor at 55.  Then after menopause, women are more prone to get heart disease because of the decrease of estrogen.  Having a family member who had a heart disease also adds to your score. The number of risk factors you have will make up your cardiovascular risk profile. Simple tests like an ECG, blood test for sugar and cholesterol plus a consultation with your doctor can give a lot of information about your risk factors and the appropriate steps that you can take to decrease your risk for heart disease. So have your risk score determination now.


The red dress has been adopted as a symbol to build awareness that women are also, or even more so, at risk for heart disease.  The Go Red for Women campaign is an international campaign of the World Heart Federation and is dedicated to the prevention, diagnosis and control of heart disease in women.  The dress is a universal image of women and red is the color of health, life and vibrancy, but also of warning. Part of this campaign is the celebration of Wear Red Day on the first Friday of February when women are encouraged to wear red and bring attention to women’s heart health.


The Heart Institute of St Luke’s Medical Center-Global City, through its Womens’ Heart Health Unit (WHHU), celebrates Wear Red Day annually together with its international counterparts in the US, Europe and Asia.


This year, on February 3, 2017, we are bringing the campaign nationwide by partnering with SM Malls. On this day, selected SM branches  in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao will be offering discounts to customers wearing red on that day but more importantly, there will be a medical booth set up where  female customers,  40 years and above, will be evaluated for their cardiovascular risk profile. With this move, we hope to spread the advocacy by reaching more women and be able to encourage them to make their heart health a priority.


Every woman needs to take her heart disease risk seriously—so take action now to reduce that risk.


For more information, contact the Women’s Heart Health Unit (WHHU) located at the Heart Institute, second floor, St. Luke’s Medical Center-Global City at (632) 789-7700 ext. 2021/2010.


Dr. Joanna Teresa Margarita L. Manalo is an Adult Cardiologist-Echocardiographer and Internist at St. Luke’s Medical Center-Global City. She is also the Head of the Women’s Heart Health Unit of the

Heart Institute at St. Luke’s-Medical Center-Global City.