UNM students wearing university branded and red clothing
By El Gibson

Go Red for Heart Health

UNMH Cardiologist Discusses Heart Disease Risk Factors Ahead of National Wear Red Day

The University of New Mexico Health and Health Sciences faculty, staff and students are encouraged to wear red on Friday, Feb. 3, to support the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign.

The annual initiative, dubbed National Wear Red Day, was created in 2004 to raise awareness, show support for women fighting cardiovascular disease and kick off American Heart Month.

Red-clad Health Sciences employees are encouraged to gather in front of the Happy Heart Bistro for a group photo at 1 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 3.

For many years, heart disease was thought to be a “man’s disease” – which experts say is far from the truth. In reality, cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death in women, taking more lives per year than all forms of cancer combined.


Carolina Ponce, MD
We need to be aware of what is the most dangerous in women’s health. Everyone should be aware of this and ask their doctor how they can reduce their risk
Carolina Ponce, MD

“We need to be aware of what is the most dangerous in women’s health,” said Carolina Ponce, MD, an interventional cardiologist at UNM Hospital. “Everyone should be aware of this and ask their doctor how they can reduce their risk.”

Heart attacks depicted on TV and in the movies oftentimes portray male actors gasping, clutching the chest and falling to the floor. In reality, the scene may not be that dramatic – and is just as likely to feature a woman.

Heart attack symptoms in women may be different than the way they present in men. Those symptoms can include:

  • Chest discomfort, with or without pain
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Back or jaw pain

Because women’s symptoms often appear “less severe” than the typical male heart attack experience, many women will dismiss their symptoms as flu-like. In these cases, women often wait to seek treatment or call 911, resulting in serious or fatal consequences.


“For the most part, women are caretakers and prioritize their family first, rather than their own health. They say, ‘I don’t have time for this,’” Ponce said. “But if they don’t call 911 or pay attention to the symptoms, they’re already far into their heart attack, and the outcomes tend to be worse even though they received the same treatment as men.”

Ponce says most young women aren’t aware that cardiovascular disease is their greatest health threat. She warns there are other serious cardiovascular health issues – such as “broken heart syndrome” or stress cardiomyopathy, arterial dissection and microvascular dysfunction – that have nothing to do with damaged, narrowed and blocked arteries typically associated with older patients.

“A lot of women think that they don’t have to worry about cardiovascular disease because they think they’re too young to have a heart attack,” she said. “All these other things can eventually cause a heart attack because of the heart muscle damage.”

Cardiovascular disease is also one of the leading causes of maternal death in the U.S. Ponce said maternal-related heart health issues can affect women during pregnancy and post-birth.

“During pregnancy, if we get a diagnosis of high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia or pre-diabetes, that usually gets better after we have our babies, but we still have to be mindful of it,” she said. “Once the baby is born, we kind of forget about ourselves. It increases your chances of having issues with heart failure or high blood pressure if you had those problems with your pregnancy.”

There are several approaches to staying heart healthy, Ponce said, including being active, staying at a healthy weight, learning about cholesterol, not smoking, eating a heart-healthy diet, maintaining healthy blood pressure and learning about blood sugar and diabetes.

One of the easier ways, she said, is consistent meditation to help manage stress levels.

“A lot of times when I ask my patients to consider meditation, they tell me they don’t have time to sit quietly. But there are different ways to meditate,” she said. “That can include praying, going for a walk, dancing – all of these things that reduce the amount of stress are good.”

When making any changes, Ponce advises that they be implemented gradually and with the help of a good support system.

“It’s important for patients to set realistic expectations and do one change at a time, otherwise they will not be successful,” she said. “This is a team effort. Asking for help is never a sign of weakness.”

WHAT: National Wear Red Day Group Photo

WHEN: Friday, February 3rd at 1 p.m.

WHERE: Happy Heart Bistro

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