Most women are accustomed to being screened for breast cancer with mammography and cervical cancer with pap smear testing. But, many women forget that they are at risk of diseases that have nothing to do with their gender, such as heart disease.
Heart disease, in fact, is the #1 killer of women. That is one of the reasons that Go Red for Women was founded. In 2003, the American Heart Institute and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute decided they needed to take action against a disease that is too often thought to be a man’s disease. Go Red for Women day is February 3rd this year and we encourage people to wear red to bring attention to this important issue. All women should speak with their doctors about 5 key numbers that affect their risk for heart disease: Total Cholesterol, HDL (good) Cholesterol, Blood Sugar, Blood Pressure and Body Mass Index (BMI).
Having high total cholesterol or a low good cholesterol increases one’s odds of developing clots in arteries. These blockages are the cause of heart attacks and many strokes. Women at low risk for cardiovascular disease should start screening for elevated cholesterol at the age of 45 and have it done every 5 years thereafter. If you smoke, have diabetes, or high blood pressure, the screening should start at age 35 and the frequency may increase. Blood pressure is usually checked at every medical visit and should be something women pay attention to regardless of age. It is just as worrisome for a young woman of 21 to have elevated blood pressure as it is for a woman of menopausal age. Having persistently elevated blood pressure increases the risk for heart attacks and the development of heart failure.
Screening for diabetes with blood sugar testing or some similar lab test should also be done periodically for women as they age. Screening should be considered early and more frequently for those who are overweight or obese. The Body Mass Index is a value calculated based on one’s height and weight. It can help determine if one’s weight is normal, overweight or obese. Make sure to ask your provider what your BMI value is or just use one of the handy online calculators with your height and weight.
Help your friends and family know the serious nature of heart disease in women by wearing red yourself. Wear Red on any Friday in February and post a picture of yourself with hashtag – #GoRedWearRed. Donate to the American Heart Association to continue groundbreaking efforts to combat this health issue. And don’t forget to make an appointment with your provider to check your 5 numbers!