05/02/2014 01:49 pm ET Updated Jul 02, 2014

Better Red Than Dead

Yes, I know the title is a bit jarring... but then, again, that's the point.

One in every three American women will die of heart disease; that means one woman every minute. That means someone you know... or maybe even you.

By comparison, one in 30 women die from breast cancer each year. In fact, heart disease is the number one killer of women, and is more deadly than all forms of cancer COMBINED. Yet, only one in five women believes that heart disease is her greatest health threat.

I know. I was part of the majority that didn't believe...

Until I spent the night under observation at the UCLA Women's Cardiovascular Health Center.

The circumstances are slightly ironic. I was actually at the hospital visiting my sister in the ICU after she had a second stent put in her head following a stroke, not long after having quadruple bypass surgery. As I sat by her side, my heart started racing and breathing became quite difficult. The nurses took note and the next thing I knew I was being wheeled to another floor.

I remember lying in bed, my sister five floors above me wondering what would happen to my kids should something happen to me. When they told me that my heart was fine but, like countless other women, I had to keep stress levels low, I felt like the luckiest woman in the world.

I agreed to serve as this year's chair for the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women* Luncheon in Los Angeles because of my sister, because of my scare, but most of all, because of my good luck and fondness for so many women in my life upon whom so many others depend.

The theme of our luncheon asks "who do you go red for?" based upon the fact that many women actually need an "excuse" to take care of themselves. "In the process of putting so much in to caring for others, they end up neglecting themselves. Their own care suffers. Exercise is forgotten, healthy eating is off the menu. They gain weight and lose strength. They age quickly and their health deteriorates," says John Berardi, Ph.D. in his article "Special for women: Is taking care of yourself really that selfish?"

Even the airplane safety warning reminds us: "Put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others." In that spirit, here's an overview that will hopefully help all breathe a little easier.

MORE women die from heart disease than men and while we all share the common heart attack symptom of chest pain or discomfort which may come and go, women are more likely to experience DIFFERENT symptoms.

The four silent heart attack symptoms that women should know:
• Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
• Irregular pain in the lower or upper back can indicate stress to the heart muscle
• Discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
• Flu-like symptoms such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness are often reported weeks and days before a heart attack.

I've always liked the color red and frequently wear it when sitting on panels in a sea of dark suits. Red has the power to stand out in a crowd... to call attention... to save lives. It has the power to prod and provoke. Hopefully, it also has the power to inspire you to answer this: who will you go red for?

*Edelman client

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