If you knew that your biggest health threat was 80 percent preventable, what would you do to stop it? Would you fight? Heart disease is the #1 killer of women, causing the death of 1 in 4 females, and sadly 45 percent of women are not aware of this fact. And what’s even more startling is that this number is higher for African American (64 percent) and Hispanic (66 percent) women. In recognition of Minority Health Month in April, WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease has teamed up with Outcome Health to educate women of color about their leading cause of death.
Heart disease claims the lives of nearly 48,000 African American and 21,000 Hispanic women annually. Black women are disproportionality impacted by hypertension-related heart disease and congestive heart failure compared to white women. The prevalence for diabetes, which increases the risk for heart disease, is twice as high in Hispanic women as white women. With more than 46 percent of African American women having high blood pressure and nearly one-third of Hispanic women, one of the risk factors for heart disease, we’ve got to do more to educate minority populations about their risks and prevention. This is especially important in hard-to-reach communities like Native American women, who may live in rural or remote areas, and studies show that their risk factors are much higher. American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) women die from heart disease at younger ages than other racial and ethnic groups in the United States.
While these numbers are alarming, there are some things that can be done to significantly reduce your risk of heart disease. Risk factors include poor diet, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, complications during pregnancy, and family history. Some risk factors you can control—such as high blood pressure, diet, and physical activity. Others are harder because they are beyond our control, such as family history. That’s why it’s critical that women seek preventive care and stay on top of their heart health by monitoring blood pressure, pulse, BMI, and cholesterol. To help lower your personal risk factors for heart disease, women can make an effort to eat smarter and follow a heart healthy diet and exercise at least 30 minutes per day.
Controlling your risk factors and living a heart healthy life may not be enough. Many women, especially minorities, continue to struggle with misdiagnoses, access to care, and affordability. Only half of African American women know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. We need to do a better job ensuring that doctors know what to look for in women and understand how their symptoms may be different from men’s and therefore how treatment is different.
Despite these challenges, here is encouraging news: More women are learning how to take charge of their heart health and demanding that they are included in the research and science of heart disease. WomenHeart is hosting its 18th annual Wenger Awardsdinner on May 7, 2018. Named for Nanette Kass Wenger, M.D., a pioneer in women’s cardiology, this annual event recognizes individuals and organizations for their extraordinary contributions to women’s heart health. This year’s honorees include: “Grey’s Anatomy’s” Chandra Wilson (Excellence in Media Award), the Honorable Debbie Dingell (D-MI) (Excellence in Public Service), Dr. Roxana Mehran (Excellence in Medical Leadership), and Dr. Clyde Yancy (Excellence in Medical Research). This year’s theme, “Fighting for Every Heart,” signals that despite race, culture, age or socio-economic status, all women deserve equal access to quality heart health care, education, treatment, and prevention.
WomenHeart will continue fighting for every heart until we eradicate heart disease in women. We will continue fighting for every heart until all women have the same access as men to accurate cardiac diagnostic testing and proper treatment. We will continue fighting for every heart until all women have the tools and resources to advocate for themselves and take charge of their heart health. We urge you to join us and fight for every heart.
Mary McGowan is the CEO of WomenHeart, the nation’s first and still only patient centered organization serving the 48 million American women living with or at risk for heart disease. WomenHeart is solely devoted to advancing women’s heart health through advocacy, community education, and the nation’s only patient support network for women living with heart disease. WomenHeart is both a coalition and a community of thousands of members nationwide, including women heart patients and their families, physicians, and health advocates, all committed to helping women live longer, healthier lives. To learn more or to donate, visit www.womenheart.org.