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National Wear Red Day Raises Awareness Of Heart Disease In Women

MIAMI (CBS) - On this National Wear Red Day, the American Heart Association hopes to raise awareness about the number one killer of women - heart disease.

Dr. Elaine Kamil, 75, spends her days caring for children with kidney disorders. After a work trip in 2013, she experienced chest pain and shortness of breath.

"I actually had been seeing a cardiologist for a few months beforehand because I had been having some chest discomfort and my evaluation was fine," she said.

She was diagnosed with "broken heart syndrome," which causes weakness of the heart muscle, often triggered by emotional or physical stress. While considered temporary, up to 10% of patients will have another event within five years, according to Cedars-Sinai.

"We lost one of our sons at the very end of 2009. I'm pretty sure I had another episode back then. You're so wrapped up in the whole grief thing, not sure what your signals are," Dr. Kamil said.

The Women's Heart Alliance has launched a new awareness campaign.

"We are doing this because of the rising cardiovascular death rates in women, particularly younger women under the age of 50 and particularly women of color. And this started before the pandemic, but it has been exacerbated by the pandemic," said Dr. Noel Bairey Merz, medical director of the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai in California.

Dr. Bairey Merz said the warning signs are not just chest pain.

"Women will have other types of symptoms and this is why they get misdiagnosed. Indigestion, overwhelming fatigue, shortness of breath, radiating pain into their jaw or shoulder," she said.

Research shows broken heart syndrome is on the rise in middle aged and older women.

Dr. Kamil said, "I go for regular follow ups and take my medication faithfully. The hard part is, I guess, psychologically knowing that you had this problem and not being worried constantly it's going to come back."

She is part of a Cedars-Sinai study to help doctors better understand the condition. She hopes more women take charge of their heart health.

A doctor can calculate a woman's risk of heart disease through tests and screenings.

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