VA Maryland Health Care System Reminds Women to Attack Heart Disease Before It Attacks Them

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Long perceived as a "man's" disease, heart disease is the leading cause of death of American women, including women Veterans. It can also lead to disability and can significantly decrease one’s quality of life. Despite this, many women do not recognize heart disease as their leading health threat, and fail to make the connection between risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and their risk of developing heart disease. African-American and Hispanic women, in particular, are at risk with high rates of obesity, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Dr. Catherine Staropoli of the Women Veterans Health Program at the VA Maryland Health Care System says “even if you have no symptoms, you can still be at risk for heart disease, and fortunately you can do something to modify your risk."

Cardiovascular disease is common and affects women more than men:
•80 million American adults and 40 million women have one or more types of cardiovascular disease.

•Cardiovascular disease includes stroke, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, birth heart defects, hardening of the blood vessels, and other diseases of the circulatory system.

•One in three women has some form of cardiovascular disease and 3 million women have had a history of a heart attack.

•Cardiovascular disease causes about a death a minute among women.

•More women died due to cardiovascular disease than to cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, Alzheimer’s disease, accidents, and diabetes combined.

  •     49% of African-American women have cardiovascular disease.
  •     More women than men die of cardiovascular disease each year. 23% of women and 18% of men will die within one year of a first recognized heart attack.

The good news is that heart disease can be prevented. Cardiac deaths have decreased, and 47% of the decrease was attributable to increased use of evidence-based medical therapies and 44% to changes in risk factors in the population due to lifestyle and environmental changes.

Risk factors:

  •     High cholesterol
  •     High blood pressure
  •     Diabetes
  •     Cigarette smoking
  •     Overweight and obesity
  •     Poor diet
  •     Physical inactivity

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure:

  •     Eat a healthy diet: Choose foods low in sodium to lower blood pressure, low in cholesterol and fat. Choose lean meats and healthy snacks that include fresh fruits and vegetables.
  •     Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity and extra weight can increase the risk of heart attacks and stroke. Eating healthy and exercising regularly can assist with weight loss.
  •     Exercise regularly: The Surgeon General recommends that adults should engage in moderate-intensity exercise for 30 minutes most days of the week. This can be fun. Find activities you like and can be passionate about, such as ballroom dancing, swimming, skating and biking. Find a friend and go in pairs. Exercise does not have to involve costly gym fees. Many exercise programs are available on cable TV stations.
  •     Quit smoking: Cigarette smoking increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Get regular screenings: Getting screened for blood pressure and cholesterol can save your life.

More information on heart disease can be found on the VA Website at: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/womenshealth/healthy_heart.asp
Editor’s Note: Dr. Catherine A. Staropoli, FACP, chief of Women Veterans Health for the VA Maryland Health Care System, is available as a subject matter expert on heart disease in women. Zelda McCormick, the Women’s Health program manager, can speak about issues pertaining to the Women Veterans Health program. For more information or to speak with either Dr. Staropoli or Ms. McCormick, please contact Rosalia Scalia, Public & Community Relations, VA Maryland Health Care System, at (410) 605-7464, or via e-mail at rosalia.scalia(at)va(dot)gov.

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Rosalia Scalia
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