Seven years ago, the American Heart Association began their Go Red for Women campaign to raise funds and most importantly awareness about American women’s risk of cardiovascular diseases. More women will die from cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and strokes than the next four causes of death combined. Yet many women under appreciated their risks and thought of cardiovascular diseases as striking their fathers, husbands, and brothers.
National Wear Red Day is always held on the first Friday in February; this year it’s February 4. Many women and men, organizations, companies, and health care providers will be wearing red to promote the goals of raising funds and, most importantly, awareness about the number one killer of women.
It’s estimated that around 80 percent of cardiac events in women are preventable by making proper choices regarding diet, exercise, and lifestyle. One goal of the American Heart Association is to educate women about risks factors and behaviors that can dramatically reduce their risk of premature death. Many of these measures are outlined in very clear and concise checklists on the American Heart Association's website: goredforwomen.org.
Another excellent choice for learning about how you can assess your cardiovascular health is to discuss this matter with your health care provider during your annual health examination. Your health care provider can help determine your personal risk for a cardiovascular event by exploring both your personal and family histories and evaluating your diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices. A complete history and physical including blood work can help your provider assess your personal risk factors for having a cardiovascular event. They can also help educate you about how you can take simple steps to minimize your risks.
Several medical conditions can contribute to elevating your risks of cardiovascular disease. These include diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and a previous heart attack or stroke event. Any one of these conditions can increase your risks for a heart attack or stroke, and many women have several of these conditions concurrently. Diabetic women are 2 to 4 times more likely to die from a coronary event than their non-diabetic counterpart. This can be especially critical information for members of specific ethnic groups like Hispanics, Native and African Americans, and Asians who may be at higher risk of developing diabetes.
Many members of these groups may also be at increased risk of suffering from hypertension, or high blood pressure, which also can increase your risk of heart disease. High cholesterol is yet another contributing factor to increasing a woman’s chance of developing cardiovascular disease. Nearly half of all Americans have cholesterol levels which are considered too high (over 200 mg/dL for total cholesterol).
The upside of all this “awareness” is that all of these conditions can be either prevented or managed with the proper interventions. The easiest way is to pay attention to what you eat and how you move each day. Diabetes can be substantially minimized if you eat healthfully and exercise regularly to maintain a healthy weight and body mass index (BMI). Eating foods low in saturated fats and cholesterol as well as high in fiber can help minimize your chances of developing diabetes or high cholesterol.
Besides diet, staying physically active is paramount to maintaining good heart health. Whether you call it exercise, gardening, walking, or playing with your kids or grandchildren, all physical activity is beneficial and should be done often. We know that sedentary lifestyles adversely affect our health and increase risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease. Finally, avoiding activities that are hazardous to our cardiovascular health is critical. The advice is simple: don’t smoke! If you do smoke, try to quit. Your health care provider can offer you many helpful tips for quitting including information on support groups and medications that can make your transition to becoming a former smoker easier.
When diet and exercise are not enough to combat certain medical conditions, medical interventions and medications are often available to ensure that chronic conditions do not contribute to cardiovascular disease. For instance, proper monitoring of diabetes and treatment with insulin and other medications is imperative to reducing your cardiovascular risk. Similarly, medications for high blood pressure and high cholesterol can help to maintain proper levels that may substantially reduce your risk of a cardiovascular event like a stroke or heart attack
The statistic that one in every three deaths of women is caused by heart disease should be thought about every day, not just on the first Friday in February. Women should focus daily on how they can maintain good cardiovascular health by proper diet and exercise and getting treatment for medical conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. National Wear Red Day is an outwardly visible way to highlight the need to take care of what’s on the inside each and every day.
Dr. Hardy is a solo physician at Atlantic Ob/Gyn in Va. Beach and Chesapeake. Call 757-463-1234 or visit www.atlanticobgyn.com