Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Women and CVD: Reversing the Trend through Prevention

It is critical to make sure our mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, and all the other important women in our lives understand the very real dangers of heart disease – the No. 1 killer of women. Sadly, almost half of America’s women are unaware of their risk. As a result, they are less likely to receive the recommended care to treat or prevent this deadly disease. We must change that.

The good news is that women today have greater access to the kind of care that can help prevent heart disease.

In the past, the high price tag on even a routine doctor’s visit could keep women from detecting heart problems early. Now, thanks to the health care law, the Affordable Care Act, women who join new health insurance plans and those on Medicare can get free preventive care, including screenings that detect raised levels of cholesterol, elevated blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease risk factors.

One of the best ways to take control of your heart health is by keeping track of these important health indicators. The health insurance reform law makes this easier than ever.

But prevention cannot stop at the doctor’s office door. Most of us know how important it is to eat right and exercise. But when we’re in a hurry, it can seem easier to get a burger from the local drive-thru than to prepare a healthy meal at home. After a long day at work, the couch may be more appealing than the treadmill. And these choices make a big difference: if you do just four simple things—eat right, be physically active, don’t smoke, and keep a healthy weight—you can reduce your risk of heart disease by as much as 82 percent.

Together, we are committed to helping women make these healthy choices. As part of the health law, we have redoubled our efforts to help state and local governments and community organizations reduce risks for heart disease, like obesity and tobacco use.

We’re supporting programs that bring fresh fruits and vegetables to neighborhoods where healthy food is hard to find or too expensive for low-income citizens. We’re making calorie information available on many restaurant menus and vending machines. And we’re working to increase the number of tobacco-free workplaces.

In addition, we are reaching out directly to women to make sure they have the information they need to live a healthy life. For example, access to emergency care within the first hour of a heart attack can help avoid lasting heart damage or death. But many women do not recognize the warning signs or symptoms of heart disease and delay seeking care.

That’s why, earlier this month, with the support of the American Heart Association, WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, and more than a dozen other groups, the Department of Health and Human Services launched the Make the Call, Don’t Miss a Beat campaign. This program will help women recognize the seven warning signs of a heart attack and encourage them to call 9-1-1 as soon as any of these symptoms occur.

While government and health organizations have a responsibility to educate the public, we can’t solve this problem alone. The people who can help America make the biggest gains in the fight against heart disease are women themselves.

Women need to have frank conversations with our doctors about our heart health. You can learn more by consulting websites like,,, and These sites have everything you need to get started towards a healthier heart, from online profiles that determine your risk to healthy recipes and tips to keep your heart healthy. WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease also provides on-line and in-person support networks for women living with heart disease.

For your own sake and for the people you love, take control of your heart health and make sure you’re treating your heart right. It’s the only one you’ve got.

-Nancy Brown
CEO, American Heart Association

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