Designers and Heart Experts Together Raise Awareness
Published May 2007
Promoting women’s health was something 35 sophomore students in UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) took to heart this May. Literally.
In collaboration with the local chapter of the American Heart Association (AHA) and the Heart and Vascular Center at UC, DAAP students designed dresses to raise awareness of an illness that’s the leading killer of women: cardiovascular disease.
“Many people still think of coronary heart disease as a man’s disease,” said Laura Wexler, MD, UC cardiologist. “In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, even above breast cancer.”
Students showcased their designs May 4 at the “Go Red for Women” luncheon, the fourth annual initiative of its kind supported by the AHA. This is the first year for the cross-campus collaboration with the Heart and Vascular Center, a sponsor of the event.
Margaret Voelker-Ferrier, fashion design program coordinator for DAAP, was eager to play a part in this initiative after experiencing a personal run-in with heart disease.
“About two years ago, I had a serious heart incident,” she said, adding that high blood pressure runs in her family. “I know firsthand the importance of heart health. And since the icon for ‘Go Red for Women’ is the red dress, incorporating this assignment into our curriculum seemed an excellent fit.”
“It really spoke to my heart,” she added.
At the event, ticket holders not only saw the handiwork of design students, they also learned about women’s heart health through exhibits, educational workshops and free health screenings.
“The event is critical to the campaign because it educates and empowers women to take charge of their health and take the steps necessary to reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke,” said Lori Fovel, director of communications for the Greater Cincinnati AHA.
Fovel said the luncheon also raises funds for research and programs supported by the AHA. This year’s luncheon was expected to raise over $200,000 for heart research.
Wexler said that raising awareness of heart disease in women is needed not only to decrease mortality rates, but also to increase quality of life for women.
Studies done by the AHA show that almost 500,000 women die yearly from cardiovascular disease, compared with about 43,000 from breast cancer.
Wexler said women tend to receive less aggressive treatment from doctors for heart disease
and are less prompt in seeking treatment.
Symptoms of coronary heart disease present themselves in different ways in women than in men, she said, noting that women may experience indigestion, fatigue, arm or jaw pain, nausea and shortness of breath.
Wexler said cardiovascular disease in women is often misdiagnosed, and that women tend to underestimate the risk factors associated with the disease.
“Women who smoke, have high cholesterol levels, hypertension and diabetes, or are inactive or obese are at risk, even more so than men with the same risk factors,” she said.
Wexler said studies have also shown black women experience a higher mortality rate associated with cardiovascular disease, perhaps because of a higher prevalence of risk factors.
Cardiovascular disease in women is basically the same disease that occurs in men, but it tends to occur about 10 years later than it does in men, Wexler added. Although it usually occurs after menopause, women with multiple risk factors can develop heart attacks and strokes even before menopause.
Although heart disease is often genetic, Wexler said there are many lifestyle factors that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, and changing these can prevent the illness.
“So much of it is preventable,” she said. “Medical therapies for diabetes, hypertension and abnormal cholesterol levels, along with healthy lifestyle changes in diet, exercise and smoking cessation can offset death and disability caused by this disease.
“People have a lot more control over heart disease than many other illnesses.”