NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – On this “National Wear Red Day” the American Heart Association (AHA) wants to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease in women.
As CBS2’s Alex Denis reports, heart disease is the number one killer in women and disease rates in younger women are increasing.
Mika Leah has always lived a healthy lifestyle.
“I was a cycle instructor, I was an athlete. I really didn’t think it could happen to me,” the go red for women volunteer said.
Eight years ago, the young mother’s life quickly changed. It became harder to exercise and she had some chest pains.
“I was breathless. I couldn’t catch my breath. And then I threw up,” Leah explained.
It turns out Mika – then just 33-years-old – had a 98 percent blockage in her main artery and needed three stents.
She had been experiencing symptoms for a year, but doctors blamed stress even though she had a family history of heart disease.
“For women less than 55-years-old there has actually been an increase in the incidence of heart disease,” Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum of Mount Sinai Hospital said. “We are seeing risk factors likes high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, increasing the risk in this population that is otherwise really healthy.”
The AHA warns that symptoms can be different for women. Instead of a typical crushing chest pain, there can be shortness of breath, jaw pain, nausea, vomiting, and even back pain.
Dr. Steinbaum said it’s critical to know your risk factors.
“A woman’s entire life is really what increases her risk so we can go back to pregnancy and see pre-eclampsia or high blood pressure, or gestational diabetes, or even high sugars,” Steinbaum added.
Mika is now 41 and works with AHA to educate women.
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The organization encourages people to dress in red ever Feb. 1 to help spread the message. Stars have joined the “go red” movement and models turn the runway red at New York’s fashion week.
Even CBS2 did its part to help the important cause – remembering it’s all about heart.
More than 400,000 women die from cardiovascular diseases each year. That is more than the deaths from cancer, accidents, and diabetes in women combined.