There is an old adage that “silence is golden.” But when it comes to heart disease, silence is deadly. A recent study in Circulation that tracked thousands of individuals over a 16-year period found that almost half of all heart attacks did not generate symptoms that would prompt a call for medical help.

For women, often tragically, there has been a long association between life-ending heart disease and silence. Few realize it, but cardiovascular disease kills more women than any other illness—more, in fact, than all cancers combined. Heart disease rates among young women, particularly African American and Latina women, are on the rise, and death rates have stayed unacceptably high.

There is, without question, a link between public perception and women’s health, leading to too many women not seeking necessary health care until it is too late. Cardiovascular illness among women continues to live in the shadows of the disease advocacy world. There is little doubt we need to continue, or in many instances begin, the conversation on heart disease and its risk factors.

What better time to amplify and sustain the conversation than today—World Heart Day. 

For far too long, heart disease was thought of as a “man’s disease.” Yet, heart disease is the number one killer of women. Few realize, for example, that women often experience entirely different symptoms than men when they are having a heart attack, including nausea or back pain. There is a devastating practical impact to this knowledge gap. On average, men seek treatment 16 hours after experiencing heart attack symptoms; women wait more than three times as long, or 54 hours. That is a life-or-death disparity.

That is why we are working tirelessly to advance the conversation to make women’s heart health a higher national priority. We are doing so at the federal level, by seeking greater funding for research, introducing bills that expand access to treatment and return-to-work services, and urging Congress to recognize events, such as Stroke Awareness Month in May, which increase education and learning about cardiovascular disease.

In the Buckeye State, we are doing our part by forging a partnership between The Ohio State University and the Women’s Heart Alliance, an organization committed to the fight against women’s heart disease through action, education and awareness building. To empower and encourage more young women to take a hands-on role in their health, a number of heart-focused activities are being planned on campus, including heart screenings, fitness programs and a heart-healthy theme at The Ohio State football game on Oct. 29, 2016, that will be dedicated to heart health.

This is just a start in what has to be a massive, sustained effort. First, we need to significantly boost awareness that heart disease is a very real, dangerous health threat to women of all ages. Then, we need to equip women with the tools that will enable them to protect their hearts through prevention and healthy-lifestyle behaviors.

Research supports that just 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week, eating five fruits and vegetables a day, avoiding tobacco and reducing stress can greatly prevent and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks.

There will come a day when we can ensure better heart health through new therapies and medical technologies. Until that time, however, it is unacceptable that any woman should die because she is not sufficiently aware of what might be happening to her heart and how to best prevent cardiovascular disease through healthy lifestyle behaviors.

Knowledge, through education and communication, will save lives.

Rep. Joyce BeattyJoyce BeattyMaking women’s heart health a higher national priority Yellen defends Fed from Trump attacks Overnight Cybersecurity: FBI tightens rules on posing as journalists | Deal on bill to update feds’ outdated tech | New Guccifer 2.0 leaks MORE represents Ohio’s 3rd District. Dr. Bernadette Melnyk is Chief Wellness Officer at The Ohio State University.

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