02/09/2012 10:58 am ET Updated Apr 10, 2012

Day Nine: Women Most at Risk for Heart Disease Least Aware of Threat

Talking with epidemiologist Suzanne Haynes, Ph.D., Senior Science Advisor, Office on Women's Health (DHHS/OWH), is fun. She's upbeat, accomplishes things with lightning speed, and gets to the bottom line -- like how women in community-based Women's Health organizations improve their awareness of heart attack symptoms and the need to dial 9-1-1.

She also mentions how delighted women are to use their knowledge to save their husbands' lives. I'm all for saving husbands, but according to Haynes, "There's a disassociation with being at high risk ... Only 50 percent of women call 9-1-1 for themselves."

As a woman, I'd like to admit that a good deal of the time I know exactly what somebody else should do and insist they do it. I think it's called "do what I say, not what I do." To be fair, we believed for years that only men had heart attacks and women were safe.


Hospitals finally have the timing thing down -- treat the heart attack patients in under an hour. But the next frontier -- we the people -- need to not spend an average four hours at home or at work having a heart attack before we go to the ER or call 9-1-1.

Heart muscle is dying. You, dear reader, wind up dead, a vegetable, or seriously ill and a burden to yourself and your families. Dare to be embarrassed! If it's only heartburn, your friends will say you did the right thing (or stop making fun of you much more quickly than you imagine).

According to recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics published by the American Heart Association in the Jan. 25 issue of Circulation, African American women are about 40 percent more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than white women. Women of color are also more likely to have more than one risk factor for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

Bless them for getting more men of color to hospitals faster -- guys of color have the worst odds of survival of all. The Yale Heart Study is especially interested in data from men of color who survive and how they did it -- they are often under -- represented in studies.

A 2011 Journal of Women's Health study, funded by DHHS/OWH, showed that 57 percent of Latina women, 40 percent of African American women, and 32 percent of white women had three or more risk factors for having a heart attack. These women were significantly less aware (60 percent) than healthier women of the signs of a heart attack and the need to call 9-1-1. The data indicate that the women most at risk for heart disease, and its possible outcomes, are actually least aware of the threat.

Yesterday -- day eight of my 29 days of blogging on Heart Health -- discussed the signs of women's heart attack and featured "Make the Call, Don't Miss A Beat" -- click here to review. Stay tuned for "Know Your Numbers," and you gotta watch the Gulf Coast Medical YouTube video below.

Hayne's OWH is partnering with Million Hearts, the initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes over the next five years.

This year, OWH will award funds to community-based Women's Health organizations in the drive toward the goal. A goal which takes talking with Haynes a step beyond fun, into inspiration. She ends her conversations with the words: "This will really save women's lives."


Please take a few minutes to visit the Yale Heart Study site and complete the heart attack survivors survey or forward it to someone you know who has survived a heart attack.

Disclosure: Suzanne O'Malley is a Senior Research Associate for the non-profit NIH-funded Yale Heart Study, a Faculty member of the Yale Writers' Conference & Associate/Director of Yale Summer Film Institute.

For more by Suzanne O'Malley, click here.

For more on personal health, click here.