Question of the Week

February 16, 2004

Teens are often the ones accused of thinking themselves immune to the statistics. Parents and doctors have concerns, and then complain that the teens don't seem to take those concerns seriously. The concerns are real. The statistics are real, and teens are not the only ones who are accused of ignoring them.

The statistics record that:
"Cardiovascular disease claims more women's lives than the next seven causes of death combined--nearly 500,000 women's lives a year...."

While more women are realizing that heart disease is a threat, very few still view it as a personal concern.

In 1997 the Heart Association found that 30 percent of women listed heart disease as women's leading cause of death. But the latest survey of more than 1,000 women found that 46 percent now know the risk--an improvement, but still fewer than half of those surveyed. 'However, when asked what they consider their own greatest health risk, only 13 percent of respondents cited heart disease'..."

A nationwide campaign has been launched to try to get women to see heart disease as a serious concern.

"The campaign is especially aimed at women ages 40 to 60, the time when a woman's risk of heart disease starts to rise. But its messages are also important for younger women, since heart disease develops gradually and can start at a young age--even in the teenage years. Older women have an interest too--it's never too late to take action to prevent and control the risk factors for heart disease. Even those who have heart disease can improve their heart health and quality of life."

Chances are you know a woman between the ages of 40 and 60, or at least a woman who is older or younger. Maybe you are a younger woman (or teen); maybe you have a mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, or even teacher who is a woman that would benefit from this message.

So what is the message?
What do you (and the women in your life) need to know?

"Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, claiming one in three women's lives. Many women believe that heart disease is a man's disease, so they fail to perceive it as a serious health threat. Women's heart disease symptoms may be different than men's symptoms, so women often ignore the symptoms that may cause serious health problems. For example, a woman might experience a severe migraine headache or an upset stomach. Heart disease in women often leads to significant health problems, including heart attacks, stroke, and even death.

Symptoms of heart trouble in women (such as "a severe migraine headache or an upset stomach") are often different than those in men and are more likely to be ignored.

"Women are less likely to survive heart attacks than men. No one knows why. It may be that women don't seek or receive treatment as soon as men. Or it may be because women's smaller hearts and blood vessels are more easily damaged. Doctors are working on finding answers to these questions. There's no question, however, that it makes sense to prevent heart problems before they start."

Aside from trying to pay attention to--and take seriously--a heart problem when it does show itself, what can be done to put off it's arrival and keep the heart as healthy as possible?

"Cardiovascular disease is mostly preventable, so understanding these serious health threats can make a lifesaving difference. Much more research needs to be done on heart disease in women. But there's valuable information available to you now. It's also available for men and children. So be empowered--educate yourself and your family."

"So be empowered--educate yourself and your family."

"Heart disease and stroke--the principal components of cardiovascular disease--are the first and third leading causes of death in the United States, accounting for nearly 40% of all deaths. About 950,000 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each year, which amounts to one death every 33 seconds. Many people believe that heart disease and stroke primarily affect men and older people, but they are the leading causes of death for both men and women. Although these largely preventable conditions are more common among people aged 65 years or older, the number of sudden deaths from heart disease among people aged 15-34 has increased. Moreover, deaths are only part of the picture. About 61 million Americans (almost one-fourth of the population) live with cardiovascular disease. Coronary heart disease is a leading cause of premature, permanent disability in the U.S. workforce. Stroke alone accounts for disability among more than 1 million Americans. Almost 6 million hospitalizations each year are due to cardiovascular disease."

"For both men and women, the biggest factors that contribute to heart disease are smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history and age. Take a moment to look at your lifestyle, family history and your general health. With this information, you and your family doctor can assess your risk and make a plan to avoid potential problems. Although you can't do much about your family history or your age, you can make lifestyle changes to avoid many of the other risk factors...

"Don't smoke....If you stop smoking, you can lower your risk of heart attack by one third within 2 years. Women who smoke and use birth control pills increase their risk even more.

"Control your blood pressure....Losing weight, exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet are all ways to help control high blood pressure. Reducing how much salt you consume can also help....

"Control your cholesterol level. If you don't know your level, ask your doctor to check it. Diet is a key part of lowering high cholesterol levels....

"Maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight puts strain on your heart and arteries....

"Exercise regularly. Remember, your heart is a muscle. It needs regular exercise to stay in shape....

"Eat a low-fat labels list nutrition information, including fat calories, many cookbooks have heart-healthy recipes and some restaurants serve low-fat dishes.

"Take care of diabetes. If you have diabetes, regular exercise, weight control, a low-fat diet and regular doctor visits are important....

"Be aware of chest pain....Be sure to contact your doctor if you suffer from pain in your chest, shoulder, neck or jaw. Also notify your doctor if you experience shortness of breath or nausea that comes on quickly.

"Know your family history. Having a father or brother with heart disease before age 55, or a mother or sister with heart disease before age 65 are factors that contribute to heart disease. Inform your doctor about your family history....

The problem is real. It's not just statistics.

Questions of the Week:
What can you do? What would it take for you to convince someone in your life that this is a reality--and that it could happen to them? What would it take for someone to convince you that it could happen to you? Once they (or you) realize that this is a concern, what can you do? What should you do?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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