Tattered Red Dress

"Are you taking your health to heart? Perhaps you understand the importance of eating a diet low in cholesterol or getting 30 minutes of exercise a day. But do you know your own risk of developing cardiovascular disease?

It’s time to take your heart health personally. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American women — and that means it is not “someone else’s problem.” As a woman, it’s your problem.

That’s where the Go Red Heart Checkup comes in. This comprehensive evaluation of your overall heart health can help you now and in the future. By knowing your numbers and assessing your risks now, you can work with your doctor to significantly reduce your chances of getting heart disease tomorrow, next year, or 30 years from now!"

So reads some of the materials promoted by the American Heart Association Red Dress campaign to increase awareness of heart disease in women. The effort is well-intended. There is no doubt that most women are unaware of just how common coronary disease is in females.

But I've got a problem with the solutions offered. "Know your numbers"? Eat healthy, don't be overweight, be active, don't smoke. That's the gist of the program's message--nothing new. In 2006, why would some sort of screening effort for detectin of heart disease not be part of the message? Why isn't there any message about the real, truly effective means to detect hidden heart disease in women--namely, heart scanning?

Does a 58-year old woman with normal blood pressure, LDL 144, HDL 51, 20 lbs overweight have hidden heart disease? I've said it before and I'll say it again: You can't tell from the numbers. She could die of a heart attack tomorrow without warning, or maybe she'll be dancing on our graves when she's 95 and never have experienced any manifestation of heart disease. The numbers will not tell you this.

I'm glad the American Heart Association has seen fit to invest its sponsors' money in a campaign to promote prevention. I wish they hadn't fallen so far short of a truly helpful message. Perhaps the sponsors (like Pfizer, maker of Lipitor) will benefit, anyway.