Heart disease is the number one killer of women, claiming a greater number of lives each year than the next four causes of death combined. Yet, all too often, it's viewed as an older man's sickness.
The "Go Red For Women" movement, by the American Heart Association, is working to raise awareness of the risks women face. An expo, Tuesday night at Embassy Suites in La Vista, will help to further the cause. It runs from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and tickets are still available at $75 per person.
Susana Harrington, a nurse practitioner with Methodist Cardiothoracic Surgery, said, heart disease is an issue that too few women think about. "If their husband says something about not feeling right, they get rushed into the doctor's office right away. If children aren't feeling right, you take them in," she said. "But if you're not feeling well, you tend to put it off... I think that's maybe where we fail ourselves."
Thirty-eight-year-old Dionne Whitfield, of Omaha, did not dismiss symptoms. And that may be why she's alive today. She first realized she was at risk for heart disease a couple of years ago during a routine physical.
"My blood levels were at such a borderline risk that I needed to do something then and there," she said. "And that's when I began the exercise."
Even with exercise, she got a huge red flag last year. "Whenever i would walk from my office to my car, and it wasn't like my car was parked far, I would be winded." She mentioned that to her doctor who sent to to a cardiologist.
After a series of tests, it was determined she had a vessel blockage, severe enough to require bypass surgery. "It was pretty much a shock," Whitfield said.
"It is unusual," Harrington added. "You don't often see women, especially in their thirties, have to have bypass surgery."
The shortness of breath Whitfield had been experiencing is one of the warning signs women, in particular, should be keep in mind. Nausea, light-headedness, neck and back pain are also symptoms women experience, unlike men who tend to only experience tightening of the chest and/or arm pain.
"The major risk factors are diabetes and smoking," said Harrington. Whitfield, however, was impacted by neither of those things. However, she did have high blood pressure and, admittedly, needed to watch her diet and exercise more.
Now, two years after she started taking charge of her heart health, Whitfield is down 60 pounds and feeling great. "I just thank God, pretty much. I listened to my own body and was not just out somewhere and passed out, because I know that would have been worse."
The American Heart Association says 80-percent of heart events can be prevented, by taking the same kinds of steps as Whitfield.