What is "Go Red for Women" all about?
What is Go Red for Women Month?This month is the time to recognize the importance of cardiovascular disease as a health concern for women, and take action to make things better.
The first important step is recognition. Heart disease is the number one killer of women, surpassing all cancers combined. Heart disease has a worse outcome in women than it does in men, in part due to late diagnosis related to lack of recognition of the signs and symptoms of heart disease.
The second step is intervention. Fortunately we have numerous means for intervention in heart disease. Unlike so many cancers and other causes of death, we have excellent ways to reduce risk factors and diagnose and treat heart disease.
Some of you may be wondering, “Should I see my cardiologist immediately?” or “How often should I get a stress test?”
The truth is, the first step is always in your own hands. Modification of risk factors is the most important thing you can do to improve your outlook from a cardiovascular perspective.
- Smoking. If you smoke, now is the time to stop. Death from cardiac disease related to smoking surpasses death from lung cancer - but once you stop smoking your risk of heart disease decreases to that of a non-smoker in 3 to 5 years. So it's true, it is never too late to quit smoking.
- Diabetes. This preventable disease greatly increases the risk of heart disease and in women the increase is many fold greater than in men. Aggressive management of diabetes and working closely with your primary care physician, cardiologist and endocrinologist to attain target glucose goals is imperative.
- Hypertension. Elevated blood pressure is an important risk for heart disease and stroke and is another risk factor in which you should play a large role in controlling. Knowing your blood pressure, checking it at home and reporting blood pressure levels to your physician make you an active participant in improving your cardiac health. Know what your target blood pressure is and let your doctor know if you are not attaining your goals. For most people, the current guideline is a target blood pressure of less than or equal to 120/80.
- Lipids. Treatment of elevated cholesterol levels is imperative in managing cardiac risk. Know your cholesterol levels - LDL, HDL and triglycerides - not just the total. Eat a low saturated fat diet. Comply with statin medications as advised by your physician. Current guidelines for women are an LDL less than 130, preferably less than 100, and less than 70 for patients with known heart disease, diabetes or chronic kidney disease with an HDL greater than 50 and triglycerides less than 150.
- Exercise. We know that regular exercise, 30 minutes at least 5 times a week, greatly improves cardiovascular health. A decrease in exercise tolerance is a sign that it's time to evaluate your heart. Exercise is a big part of the management of diabetes, hypertension and lipids as well and helps to maintain appropriate body weight.
- Family history. This is an important risk factor but unfortunately, not one we can modify. A parent or sibling that had early onset of coronary artery disease (i.e. men before age 55 or women before age 65) puts you in a higher risk category and reemphasizes the need for aggressive management of any other cardiac risk factors.
When is it time to see a cardiologist or have cardiac testing?This should be a decision you make with your primary care physician. Stress testing is not used as a screening test for the general population with no symptoms but may be appropriate for people with significant risk factors in order to better stratify risk, and certainly for people with chest pain or shortness of breath that is otherwise unexplained or to further assess palpitations or unusual heartbeats. An echocardiogram or ultrasound of the heart may be used to evaluate a heart murmur heard on exam or assess the pumping function of the heart. In issues to come we will do more to explain various heart tests, what they are and when they should be used.
The real message this month is to take care of yourself. Be your own best advocate. As women, we are often the caretakers for many others, but without our own health, we cannot help others. Do a personal assessment of your risk factors, discuss it with your primary care physician and take the steps necessary to minimize your risk of heart disease. Go Red for Women is the campaign to remind us to be our best, healthiest selves.