October has come to a close and the national attention to breast cancer will wean its way out of our consciousness until next year. Creating a sea of pink acknowledging Breast Cancer Awareness Month over the years has been very effective. The American Cancer Society estimates that women have a 1 in 8 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime and a 1 in 37 chance of dying. According to its Cancer Facts & Figures 2016, overall breast cancer death rates declined by 36% from 1989 to 2012 due to improvements in early detection and treatment. This is a significant change and one to be applauded.
But believe it or not, all of the football and baseball players wearing pink, all the companies that donate a portion of their profits to breast cancer research and all of the free mammograms in the country aren’t stopping an overwhelming number of women from dying each year in the United States.
Why not? Because more women are dying of cardiovascular diseases than they are of breast cancer in our country. According to the American Heart Association, one in three women will die of heart disease or stroke. You read that right, ONE in THREE! Approximately one woman dies every 80 seconds from cardiovascular diseases. One in two women will be diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. These numbers too high with too little attention paid to them.
Heart disease is the number one killer of women, claiming the lives of more women than all cancers combined. Stroke isn’t far behind, being the number 5 killer of women. Here are a few other startling numbers from the American Heart Association:
- An estimated 44 million women in the United States are affected by cardiovascular disease.
- 90% of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease or stroke.
- 80% of heart disease and stroke events could be prevented.
With numbers like that, it’s time we all see red - everyday!!!
Please don’t pass judgment thinking that I am trying to diminish breast cancer, the lives it has affected forever or the women and men we have bravely fought and lost their battles with the disease. I know many breast cancer survivors and those who have died from it. I am a woman and it still scares me every month when I do my self-exams and every year until my mammogram comes back clean. But I am also a heart attack survivor, and despite having several risk factors of cardiovascular disease, I never gave much thought to my risk of dying from heart disease. Thankfully, I am still here to tell my story and help women realize that we need to focus on the health of our hearts in addition to the health of our breasts.
Since 1984, more women than men have died each year of heart disease and stroke, yet ironically, heart disease is thought of as a man’s disease causing disparities in research. A woman’s body is different than that of a man, and research is needed to identify gender specific ways for heart disease to be prevented, detected, managed and treated in women. However, research reflects that only 35% of participants in heart related studies are women according to Dr. Paula Johnson, Advisor to the Women’s Heart Alliance, Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Executive Director, Connors Center for Women’s Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital. It is critical that moving forward, research in heart disease and stroke be more inclusive of women, providing more specific methods of detection and treatments to help save lives.
There is a great deal of work to be done by everyone, but we need to start somewhere. The best place to start is with ourselves. By taking charge of our own health, working on preventing the development of cardiovascular disease, knowing the symptoms and becoming our own best advocates, we can help to create a wave of understanding, acknowledgement and change in the lives of millions of women and their hearts.
It is imperative that women and the men who love, respect – and, lets be honest, NEED them – not only be aware of the symptoms of heart disease and stroke, but that they are supported, encouraged and provided opportunities to lead healthier lifestyles, both in the workplace and at home.
With the possibility of preventing 80% of heart disease, the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple Seven can do a great deal to help reduce a woman’s risk.
- Get Active
- Control Cholesterol
- Eat Better
- Manage Blood Pressure
- Lose Weight
- Reduce Blood Pressure
- Stop Smoking
And the best part of following these seven steps, you will not only reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases but other diseases including diabetes and many forms of cancer (yes, breast cancer, too)!
It’s time to see red. Focus on your heart. Your whole body, and those who love you, will thank you.