THE BLOG
04/06/2011 12:20 pm ET Updated Jun 06, 2011

Women and Heart Disease: Staggering Statistics

A heart is often illustrated as a symbol of love. From the time we are children, we begin to associate our heart with our emotions, spirituality and expressions. But beyond symbolism and sentiment, is the vital organ which has inspired the belief that the heart is at the very core of who we are as human beings.

The human heart will beat more than 2.5 billion times during an average lifespan. But for many women, their lifetimes will be cut short by heart disease. Today, we will lose one woman every minute to heart disease. More women will die from heart disease, than from all cancers combined. And to rattle the feminists, heart disease now kills more women than men.

These statistics are staggering, and they are not made prevalent enough. In a crowded landscape of diseases that can take a woman's life, heart disease is often last to cross a woman's mind. Most women are fairly well educated on the risks of developing cancer and the precautions they can take, but in my experience, when I've asked a woman what measures they can take to decrease their chances of heart disease, or what the symptoms of a heart attack are -- I'm met with a deafening silence. But I am in no position to judge, because at the age of 47, I had a heart attack and had to have an emergency triple-bypass to save my life.

Looking back, there were probably hundreds of signs and symptoms along the way, but I was committed to being healthy, I exercised regularly, was a modified vegetarian, meditated and even owned a juice cleanse business, which was geared toward teaching women about clearing out toxins and rejuvenating the body. So I just never thought a heart attack would, or could happen to me. But it did, and I was one of the lucky who survive.

Since then, I've come to realize that heart disease has the potential to live inside us all. It's what I refer to as a "silent stalker." It lurks in the shadows, presenting symptoms that don't seem menacing, but have the potential to kill. These symptoms can feel like anxiety, the flu or that general fatigue women can experience every day.

Unlike with men, the symptoms of heart disease for women are more of a whisper. They are subtle and consequently often attributed to anxiety, menopause, stress, or overexertion. Symptoms of a heart attack that should put women on alert are neck and jaw pain, prolonged fatigue, sharp pains between the shoulder blades or the back, shortness of breath, and nausea. Two or more of the following are general risk factors most women need to be mindful of, as they can indicate a form of heart disease:

  • High cholesterol
  • Low HDL cholesterol
  • Hypertension in yourself or in the family
  • History of diabetes
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Smoking
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Stress

Having a heart attack drove me into advocacy of raising awareness about heart disease for every woman. I am "making my mess, my message" and turning a personal journey into a shared one by educating women everywhere, so that they may be spared the same shocking diagnosis and heart surgery. And like most women, when something life changing happens to them, I turned to my best friend, Carole Isenberg, a women's advocate through film and television. Together we've formed the non-profit, Events of the Heart (EOH), with the mission to create a voice and a message for women to learn about heart disease. Through our organization, Events of the Heart, we educate women about every aspect of heart disease, from prevention to genetic factors to the emotional and physical facets of the recovery process.

This year, our main initiative is, "The Million Women's Heart Project," which will rally one million women, many whom can't afford to get screened, to get their hearts tested and learn how to take proper action against heart disease -- because 80 percent of heart disease is preventable. We'll also collect one million stories about the lives of these women. These personal narratives tie into our collection of compelling stories we've assembled since we launched EOH. It's a sort of "Angina Monologues" if you will, which we've turned into theatrical performances which we take across the country with many well-known actors inspiring women to take care of their hearts.

The Million Women's Heart Project will launch today on April 6th, and we will work hard to educate women across the country, on how they can help prevent heart disease.

Metaphorically, your heart may belong to those you love -- your spouse, your children, your family and friends, but in truth, your heart beats only for you. And so I encourage all women to take care of their heart, and to be their own advocate on heart disease.

To learn more our Million Women's Heart Project, visit www.millionwomensheartproject.com.