The number of Americans living with cardiovascular disease has decreased in this country since the late 1960s; however, heart attacks and strokes still kill 1 in 3 women in the United States every year.
Photography by Beth Hall
That’s about one woman every minute, which is higher than all cancer deaths in women combined. In addition, women have more strokes than men and are more likely to die as a result. Obviously, there is still work to be done.
Too Young for Heart Disease
Allison Carr (photo at top) was in her early 20s and pregnant with her second child when she began to experience dizzy spells and overwhelming fatigue. She discussed it with her doctor, but felt comfortable with the conclusion that it was likely a result of the stress of pregnancy and of being a single mother.
“I didn’t have family to discuss it with, and, at my age, why would I think to?” Carr explained. “I was too young to think anything was seriously wrong.”
But when her son was 17 months old, she had her first heart attack, and the long road of living with cardiovascular disease began. Today, after a couple of misdiagnoses, years of struggling to find a doctor who would take her symptoms seriously, two strokes and three open-heart surgeries, Carr has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure and is on a list for consideration for a heart transplant.
She credits her present state of health to two things: her current cardiologist and her own determination to follow her instincts when former doctors were telling her nothing was wrong. “You learn to value your own intuition,” she said. “It’s made me realize that if I feel something is wrong, it’s important to keep trying to get an answer.”
For her, the materials and information that the American Heart Association (AHA) publishes online and in brochures were a huge help as she searched for answers. They are one reason she’s involved as a volunteer in the organization’s work in northwest Arkansas. “I’m so excited about being involved and letting others know that [the AHA’a] education and support are out there.”
As part of those educational efforts, the AHA encourages all women to have annual checkups with their physicians. Just like those visits you schedule for your kids every year, “well-woman visits” are considered preventative services and are covered in full by Medicare, as well as by most private health insurance policies.
Staying on top of such visits with your physician could allow him to identify potentially serious concerns while they are more easily treated. Your visit will be tailored to your age, family history and other individualized factors, such as smoking and exercise habits.
You will also be evaluated for other health issues unique to women, such as certain cancer and bone-mass screenings, but since cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women, the focus will likely be on examining your heart’s health. Your well-woman visit will also probably include a cholesterol screening, measurement and discussion of your body mass index, and the recording of your blood pressure.
Many women put off taking care of their own health because they’re too busy, they haven’t experienced any of the usual warning signs of a cardiovascular event, or they just don’t want any bad news. But studies show that 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented through education and lifestyle changes, so seeing your physician annually seems a fairly easy thing to do when you consider the alternatives.
Health insurance coverage is now more affordable and accessible than ever before for millions of American women. If you don’t have health insurance, financial help and insurance counseling are available through the website localhelp.healthcare.gov. You can also contact the Health Insurance Marketplace Call Center at 800.318.2596 for assistance.
Go Red for Women
This month, organizations across the country are highlighting cardiovascular disease in all its forms, and special attention is being paid to women’s health education through Go Red for Women initiatives coordinated by the AHA. The northwest Arkansas affiliate of the AHA will welcome Star Jones as keynote speaker for its annual Go Red for Women Luncheon, scheduled for Feb. 16 at John Q. Hammons Convention Center in Rogers.
Jones is an Emmy award-nominated TV host, attorney, best-selling author and former New York City homicide prosecutor; she’s currently a member of the board of directors and president of the Professional Diversity Network, which seeks to create a diversified workforce reflective of a diverse consumer base. Jones has also been visible as a fundraiser for philanthropic causes throughout her career and is, herself, a heart disease survivor. Additionally, she served as a national volunteer with and as the face of AHA’s Go Red For Women movement since 2011.
Tickets for the luncheon will provide access to an exclusive AHA boutique and educational expo from 9 to 11 a.m. This includes free health screenings, nutrition education, and beauty and fashion advice. Sponsors for the expo include Northwest Medical Center; Kellogg’s; and Macy’s. The lunch program runs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and will feature inspirational personal stories, a keynote address, and the Go Red Fashion Show. Tickets are available by calling 479. 439.6800 or by purchasing them online at nwagored.heart.org.