According to the American Heart Association, nearly 80 percent of cardiovascular (heart) diseases are preventable. Awareness and prompt action are vital to stay ahead of the disease. This includes:
- knowing your numbers and family history of heart disease,
- recognizing the signs and symptoms of both heart attack and stroke,
- learning Hands-Only CPR and
- making healthy lifestyle changes.
“It is essential that we become proactive about preventing heart disease,” says cardiologist Kami Banks, M.D., MPH, of Presbyterian Heart & Vascular Group, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice. “A good first step is to be more mindful about cardiovascular risk factors. Key questions to ask yourself are: ‘What is my blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes number and weight? How much exercise do I commit to per week? Am I eating a heart-healthy diet that is full of vegetables and low in saturated fats?’
Next, as women, we need to think about risk factors that are unique to us. For example, we know that hypertension in pregnancy may be a precursor to essential hypertension later in life. And, now we also know that hormonal therapy is not of clear benefit to many women. Discussing these issues with your doctor can help you develop a plan for prevention which may include lifestyle changes, medications or sometimes even heart disease screening.”
A Woman’s Greatest Health Threat
There are a number of misconceptions about heart disease in women that could be putting your health at risk. For one, it’s not just a problem for “older” women as some might think. Heart disease and stroke can affect a woman at any age. In fact, new research released by the AHA shows heart attacks are on the rise in younger women. And heart disease takes the lives of more women than cancer, accidents and diabetes combined. That’s why it’s important for all women to take charge of their heart health and encourage others to do the same.
Heart attack symptoms are often presented in the movies and on TV as stark, telltale signs of distress. The reality is symptoms of a heart attack can be very different in a man versus a woman. Fewer women than men survive heart attacks, often because of the perception of what one should look like. This makes it even more important to understand that the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke can be quite different for women.
American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women® initiative empowers women to know more and get healthy through “Watch Me Go Red.” The Watch Me campaign is designed to engage women to show others what they do to experience good health and wellbeing, while inspiring others to do the same through three calls to action.
Watch Me Be Aware: Awareness is critical! Starting at age 20, women should get screened for cardiovascular disease risk factors. The five key personal health numbers that help determine risk for heart disease are:
- total cholesterol
- HDL (good) cholesterol
- blood pressure
- blood sugar
- body mass index
“In addition to knowing your key health numbers and talking to your doctor about heart disease at each wellness visit—or more often if necessary, you can learn about your heart age by taking the heart health assessment,” Dr. Banks adds. “Understanding your heart age and potential risk factors can go a long way towards your overall health.”
Watch Me Live Well: Even modest changes to diet and lifestyle can lower risk by as much as 80 percent. Make living a healthy lifestyle a priority by moving more, eating smart and managing blood pressure. You can do this by tracking your physical activity, diet and blood pressure through the American Heart Association’s Check. Change. Control.
Watch Me Make an Impact: More research is needed to find new ways to treat, beat and prevent heart
disease in women. Participating in research is an important way you can make strides in putting an end to heart disease and stroke. Research Goes Red puts women in the driver’s seat to accelerate scientific discovery by contributing to health research through clinical trials, surveys, focus groups and more.
Take a Stand against Heart Disease
The movement to end heart disease and stroke in women is no longer just about wearing red during the month of February (although it’s a great start). It’s no longer just about sharing heart health facts. It’s about all women making a commitment to stand together with Go Red and taking charge of their own heart health as well as the health of those they can’t bear to live without.