The color red crops up in February, not only because of Valentine's Day, but also for heart health month. Heart disease's sometimes dull chest ache or explosive pain is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One in three deaths in the United States is a result of heart disease and stroke, which equates to about 2,200 deaths per day, according to the CDC. Peiffer was unaware of just how prevalent the disease's deadly nature was before she was gasping for air in that swimming pool. She associated heart problems with a pain that grabs you "like the elephant on your chest," but hers came in the form of an inability to breathe.
As a WomenHeart champion, which is a certification she received from The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, she talks at events and tells attendees that women's symptoms can be a more subtle pain.
The classic symptoms of a heart attack are chest heaviness and pressure, but that's not the signs many women show, Kuna said. Instead, their heart may race, and they might experience shortness of breath.
"A lot of people worry about sharp, stabbing pain ... something that feels like a knife going into my chest, but that's a lot less common for a heart attack," she said. "It's often a dull, vague aching pain that people describe, and again that's oftentimes why people will ignore symptoms. You're almost a little luckier to have severe pain."
That's because the pain triggers to the mind that all is not well. Heart disease can sneak up on an individual suddenly if preventative measures aren't being taken, according to Kuna. Such steps include quitting smoking; ensuring blood pressure, cholesterol, sugar and weight are under control; visiting a doctor regularly; exercising; and maintaining a healthy diet.
"The key thing is to know that heart disease is very treatable and very preventable as long as you're getting the care that you need," Kuna said.
Since 1984, more women have died of cardiovascular disease than men, according to the American Heart and Stroke Associations 2012 updated statistical fact sheet. Women represent about 52 percent of such deaths, which Wendy Post, a Johns Hopkins associate professor of medicine in the cardiology division, said could be attributed to their mentality.
"Often, women are so busy taking care of their families or other people," she said, "and often times women don't take care of their own health, so it's important for us to take care of ourselves."