Friday was National Wear Red Day, and I “participated.” This means I wore red, and hoped that someone would see it and think “I wonder if the red means something different today than it usually does – I must ask her” or “oh, good! Here’s someone else who is concerned about heart disease in women!” or even “that reminds me, I must do more to fight gender bias in medicine.” (OK, a stretch.) Instead of thinking, simply, “nice color” or “boy, she wears red a lot.” (Because I do, and always have, and therein lies one of my awareness-raising shortcomings.) The point of “Wear Red Day” and the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” campaign is to call attention to the need for more research on heart disease in women, and to life-threatening gender disparities in medical care. Heart disease, heart attacks and strokes have killed more women than men in the last 25 years, but fewer than 1 in 10 doctors are aware of it. Women who call 9-1-1 with cardiac complaints are more likely than men to experience delays in response. Women are still less likely to receive an EKG when they present in an ER with chest pains, and they’re less likely to receive the most aggressive treatment when they have been diagnosed with a heart attack or heart disease. Women are also less likely to be prescribed cholesterol-lowering medications by their physicians. And, importantly, women are more likely to miss their own initial symptoms of heart attack – which tend to differ from the classic “male” pattern. Years of gender bias in medical research have assured that, among other essentials, basic education – for patients and providers both – is lagging. Read this for a start: The Healthy Heart Handbook for Women. Women shouldn’t be afraid to say to a doc, “look, before you pat my hand and send me home with a prescription antacid or anti-anxiety drug, could we just verify that I’m not having a heart attack?”
So I’m all for this campaign, and am glad to see the fitness and diet encouragements on the web site. But the awareness-raising strategy bugs me a bit: Wear red one day/year, and buy scarves and jewelry featuring a miniature slinky red dress. The slogan on the American Heart Association’s “Go Red” page is “Shop ’til your heart’s content.” Please! If someone stops and asks me why I’m wearing red, or (if I owned the pin) what a pin represents, then I have a chance to educate. But given the proliferation of “awareness” ribbons and rubber bracelets (see here for one dizzying field guide), one wonders if they might be turning into background noise. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but it seems to me that the venerable run/walk/bike/swim-type awareness-raisers (“Race for the Cure,” the AIDS Rides, Team-in-Training events, etc.) have a leg up in this respect (pun intended). They’re highly visible, and they attract some really dedicated, highly motivated participants. If I’ve missed it, I’ll sign up for the very next event – but where is the equivalent event for research and treatment of women’s heart disease? Could there be a more perfect marriage of cause and event? Where’s Avon these days? Back in the late 70s, when I was a teenager, Avon heavily promoted women’s running with a terrific international circuit of events. Or Revlon? Who is stepping up and partnering with AHA to get a series like this going?