Heart Disease: Fight the Number One Killer

Although breast cancer is the disease women fear most, according to a study by the Society for Women's Health Research, heart disease is actually the number one killer of women—approximately 500,000 women die annually from heart disease—far surpassing the death rate of breast cancer, about 41,000 each year.

To help raise awareness of heart disease in women, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health, and partner organizations launched a national campaign in 2002 called The Heart Truth®, whose national symbol is the Red Dress®. The Red Dress® is used to remind women of the need to protect their heart health and inspire them to take action, according to the NHLBI.

Although surveys show that national heart health awareness programs are having a positive effect on raising awareness of the disease, one-third of all women still underestimate their own personal risk of getting heart disease and one in four women still die from it, according to the NHLBI.

Know Your Risk Factors

The mission of The Heart Truth® is to get the word out that heart disease is largely preventable, especially in women ages 40 through 60, when the risk of heart disease starts to increase. But the message of the campaign is also important for younger women, since heart disease can develop gradually over many years and can even begin during the teenage years.

To ensure your own heart health, talk to your doctor about any risk factors you may have for developing the disease and what action you can take to reduce your risk. Just doing these four things can lower your risk by as much as 82 percent:

1. Eat a healthy diet that contains plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, monounsaturated fats like olive oil, omega-3-rich fish, such as salmon.

2. Stick to a regular exercise routine of at least 30 minutes of activity on most days of the week.

3. Quit smoking.

4. Maintain a healthy weight.

Get Involved

To learn how you can get involved in spreading the word about how women can reduce their heart disease risk in your community, visit the NHLBI website.  

Here are some starting tips:

  • Plan an event. Invite your friends to a Red Dress luncheon and serve heart healthy foods. Or, organize a heart-healthy walk around your community.
  • Hold a Red Dress-themed fashion show or health fair.

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute

NIH News. "During Heart Month and on National Wear Red Day, Heart Truth Campaign Raises Awareness."