Putting the Focus on Heart Disease
Feb. 02, 2011 - Get your red dress, shirt, or scarf ready. Friday is National Wear Red Day to help raise awareness of heart disease in women.
It's been an annual event since 2004, when the American Heart Association (AHA) decided that women needed to realize the threat that heart disease poses for them. It's not just an "older man's disease," but one that claims the lives of a half million women each year.
Among the figures cited by the AHA:
- Heart disease is the number one killer of women ages 20 and older.
- More women die of cardiovascular disease that the next four causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer.
- Although one in 30 U.S. women dies from breast cancer, about one in three dies from cardiovascular disease.
- Nearly 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.
- Eighty percent of cardiac events could be prevented if women improved their diet, got more exercise, and stopped smoking.
And certain ethnic groups are hit harder than others:
- Hispanic women may develop heart disease 10 years earlier than non-Hispanic women.
- African-American women are at greater risk for heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases than white women.
The AHA's goal? To reduce the number of deaths and cases of disability from cardiovascular disease and stroke in women by 20 percent - by 2020. The organization also hopes to improve women's heart health by 20 percent in the same time period.
Many women incorrectly believe that heart disease - and heart attacks and stroke - affect only men. It's not hard to see why. The AHA says that men have long been the subjects of the research done on heart disease and stroke, and guidelines for treatment and prevention have been aimed at them. This has led to an oversimplified, distorted view of heart disease and risk, which has worked to the detriment of women, the AHA says.
The risk for heart attack and stroke in women increases with age, especially after menopause. But atherosclerosis, the condition in which plaque - thick, hard cholesterol deposits - forms in artery walls, starts in your teens and 20s. That's why it's important to start protecting yourself from heart disease early.
Why the color red? The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute first used a red dress as a national symbol for women and heart disease awareness in 2003. The AHA also began using the symbol, incorporating the dress into its program Go Red for Women.
As a woman, you can do a lot to reduce your reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke. Here are some ideas:
- Get your blood pressure checked. Normal blood pressure is 119/79 or lower. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is 140/90 or higher. Blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89 is called prehypertension.
- Get your cholesterol levels checked. In general, you're at low risk if your total cholesterol is less than 200 mg/dL; LDL, less than 100 mg/dL; HDL, greater than 40 mg/dL; and triglycerides, less than 150 mg/dL.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Carrying extra pounds increases blood pressure and blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It also increases your risk for type 2 diabetes.
- Quit smoking. Smokers have more than twice the risk for heart attack than do nonsmokers. The chemicals in cigarette smoke can cause coronary arteries to constrict, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood through the body.
- Get active. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week.
- Change your fats. Switch from butter and other saturated fats to liquid margarine, tub margarine, olive oil, and canola oil.
- Eat your fruits and veggies. Eat plenty of produce -- at least 2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruits daily.
- Increase your fiber. Oatmeal, whole-grain bread and other whole-grain foods are excellent sources of soluble fiber, which helps reduce LDL cholesterol.
- Drink alcohol in moderation. Women should limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day, the equivalent of 12 ounces of beer, 4 to 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.
Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.