Many Women Still Don't Take Heart Disease Seriously

Campaign seeks to highlight risks, encourage proactive approach to heart health

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By Janice Billingsley
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 12, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- More American women than ever know that heart disease is the leading cause of death they face. Yet, too many mistakenly believe they aren't personally at risk and don't take the necessary steps to protect their hearts.

Those findings were presented at an American Heart Association (AHA) news conference in New York City on Tuesday, designed to encourage women to take a more aggressive approach to their heart health.

According to AHA surveys, 46 percent of women list heart disease as their leading cause of death, but only 13 percent report that they feel at personal risk for heart disease. That's a gap that's "alarming to us," said Kathy Rogers, vice president of Cause Initiatives and Integrated Marketing for the American Heart Association.

"A woman will say, 'I know it's the number-one cause of death, but I'm not worried about it for myself,'" she said. "There is an emotional, personal disconnect."

To address this gap, the AHA news conference unveiled a new direction for the association's nearly two-year-old Go Red For Women program. The campaign, coupled with earlier AHA initiatives, has increased awareness among women of the dangers of heart disease by 50 percent, Rogers said.

Now, the Go Red For Women initiative will aim to personalize this message so women begin to take better care of themselves. But the new campaign is about more than just raising awareness, Rogers said -- it's designed to motivate women to action.

Measure will include literal hands-on messages like:

  • asking women to put their hands over their heart every day to feel it beating and appreciate how it works,
  • providing materials to both women and doctors that identify heart-disease risks for women,
  • encouraging women to wear a Go Red For Women dress pin, available for free from the AHA, and wearing red next Feb. 3, to show support for National Heart Month.

Rogers said the AHA will also help women to become more proactive about adopting a healthier diet and lifestyle, informing them about personal risk factors, and urging them to visit their doctors on a regular basis.

The news conference included Dr. Nieca Goldberg, chief of Women's Cardiac Care at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, and a clinical volunteer with the heart association.

"Women seem to know activities that will reduce the risk of heart disease, like exercise and not smoking, but are not aware of their personal risk factors, like high cholesterol or blood pressure," she said.

Goldberg urged women to "know your numbers," including body mass index (BMI); cholesterol levels, including LDL (bad) and HDL (good) readings; triglyceride (blood fat) levels; blood pressure; waist circumference; and, if they have diabetes, fasting glucose levels.

According to AHA guidelines, total cholesterol should be under 200 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL); triglyceride levels should be less than 150 mg/DL; blood pressure should be less that 120/80 mmHg; and waist circumference should be less than 35 inches. In addition, HDL cholesterol levels should be 50 mg/dL or higher, and LDL levels should be less than 160 mg/dL for people at low risk for heart disease, and less than 130 mg/dL for those at intermediate risk.

If your numbers are outside of these guidelines, you could be at higher risk for heart disease, Goldberg said, no matter what your age.

"There are fewer heart attacks among women under 50, but they are deadlier -- those women are two times more likely to die," she said. "Further, 80 percent of heart attacks occur in women who have a major risk factor, like high blood pressure or cholesterol, a smoking habit or diabetes."

Goldberg added that symptoms of a heart attack often mimic other health problems, and women should be aware of these often-subtle signs and see their doctors right away. They include shortness of breath; chest discomfort that can seem like heartburn; pain or discomfort in the upper body, like arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach; and nausea or breaking into a cold sweat.

According to the AHA, cardiovascular disease claims more women's lives than the next six causes of death combined -- about 500,000 women a year. One in 2.5 women who die, die of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, compared with one in 30 who die of breast cancer. But for most women -- and men -- simple changes in lifestyle and diet can significantly reduce the risk of the disease, the association said.

More information

To learn more about women and heart disease, visit the American Heart Association.

SOURCES: Nieca Goldberg, M.D., chief, Women's Cardiac Care, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City, and clinical volunteer, American Heart Association; Kathy Rogers, vice president, Cause Initiatives and Integrated Marketing, American Heart Association, Dallas; Oct. 11, 2005, American Heart Association Go Red For Women news conference, New York City

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