With all of the attention that various types of cancers common to women get, it would be an easy assumption, if incorrect, that heart disease is far less of a threat to women. A poll conducted by the American Heart Association reveals that is exactly the assumption that many people have.
Among women, about half recognize heart disease as a major health problem among women, but only 13 percent considered it to be a significant personal health risk. By far, the primary health fear among women, according to the survey, is breast cancer, even though six times as many women succumb annually to heart disease as breast cancer.
To help publicize the dangers of heart disease among women, the American Heart Association hosted the 2018 Go Red for Women Survivor Gallery in the rotunda of the State Capitol Building on Thursday, February 1, honoring eight women and girls who have survived major cardiac events.
In addition to the Survivor Gallery, the event featured the “Red Sofa Tour,” a traveling sofa where people are encouraged to sit down and have their photograph taken to be posted online with the hashtag #redsofatour.
The event on February 1, along with National Wear Red Day, which was February 2, and is always held on the first Friday in February, were part of National Heart Month, a month-long public awareness campaign intended to educate Americans about heart disease, how to treat it, and how to prevent. Go Red for Women activities are intended to prompt women to understand the risk heart disease poses for them, as one in three deaths of women annually are attributed to heart disease, even though heart disease has historically been considered to be a problem mostly among men.
That misconception, said Joyce Taylor, executive director of the Central Arkansas office of the American Heart Association, and the need to get accurate information out to women about the true risk posed to them by heart disease, is the driving force behind the Go Red movement.
“It’s important that we continue to raise awareness. We want all women to understand their history, their family history, to know their numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and body mass index), to know what to look for and how to talk to their doctors about it,” said Taylor.
Some of the facts the American Heart Association is trying to publicize to women include:
Cardiovascular diseases and stroke cause 1 in 3 women’s deaths each year, killing approximately one woman every 80 seconds
An estimated 44 million women in the U.S. are affected by cardiovascular diseases
90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease or stroke
Women have a higher lifetime risk of stroke than men
80 percent of heart disease and stroke events may be prevented by lifestyle changes and education
Fewer women than men survive their first heart attack
The symptoms of heart attack can be different in women vs. men, and are often misunderstood – even by some physicians
Minority women face even greater obstacles:
Hispanic women are likely to develop heart disease 10 years earlier than Caucasian women
Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death for Hispanic women, killing nearly 21,000 annually
Only 34 percent of Hispanic women know that heart disease is their greatest health risk
Hispanic women are least likely to have a usual source of health medical care and only 1 in 8 say that their doctor has ever discussed their risk for heart disease
Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death for African-American women, killing over 48,000 annually
Only 36 percent of African American women know that heart disease is their greatest health risk
Of African-American women ages 20 and older, 48.3 percent have cardiovascular disease. Yet, only 14 percent believe that cardiovascular disease is their greatest health problem
Only about 50 percent of African-American women are aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack
In 2010, the AHA set a strategic goal of reducing death and disability from cardiovascular disease and strokes by 20 percent while improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent by the year 2020. Rebecca Buerkle, communications manager for the Southwest Affiliate of the American Heart Association, said progress has been made but there is still a long way to go.
“Our effort to reduce death and disability from cardiovascular disease is going pretty well. I believe we’re at 16 percent or so,” Buerkle said. “The other part of the goal is to improve the lives of all Americans by 20 percent by 2020 and on that we’re pretty behind on. That comes from people making lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, making time for exercise, choosing better options at the grocery store and how they cook at home. It’s lifestyle issues that are where we’re trying to move the needle.”
Buerkle said those lifestyle changes would have an enormous impact on cardiovascular health.
“It would be incredibly significant,” she said. “Eighty percent of cardiovascular diseases and strokes are preventable. Eighty percent is huge, it’s the lion’s share. You do have things like genetic factors, congenital heart defects and the like, that are unavoidable, but if people do take these lifestyle actions that is the trend we hope we would see.”
Buerkle said people can make those changes, and she cited the blood pressure awareness program the AHA sponsors as a good example, saying many of the people who have taken advantage of that program have made significant gains in lowering their blood pressure.
When it comes to heart attacks and women, Buerkle said there is still a considerable disconnect between what people believe and the reality of cardiac disease that women face.
“Until 2004, we thought heart disease was a problem for men, and more often than not, older men,” she said. “We’ve made progress but still, we have a really long way to go, as evidenced by the fact that less than 20 percent of women identify heart disease as their number one health threat.”