National Wear Red Day is Friday, Feb. 7. It’s aim is to raise awareness about heart disease and stroke as one of the leading causes of death in women. Cardiovascular disease isn’t just a “man’s disease.” It is a leading cause of death in both women and men in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“Women in general often think more about the health of those they love, than of their own health,” said Dr. Melony Atwood, a cardiologist at Intermountain Healthcare. “Women can modify their own heart health and the heart health of those they love by seeing their doctor regularly, modifying their risk factors, learning the warning signs and symptoms of heart disease and learning their medical family history.”

According to Atwood, cardiovascular disease is modifiable. People can make lifestyle choices and improve or control medical conditions to lower their risk for heart disease. Almost two-thirds of women who die suddenly of heart disease have no previous symptoms. This is why it is so important for women (and men) to see their primary care physician regularly and be screened for heart disease.

“Knowing your numbers is the single best thing you can do to prevent your risk for heart disease,” Atwood said. “Knowing your numbers means seeing your doctor regularly and knowing your blood pressure, knowing your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, knowing your weight, and knowing if you are diabetic. If any of these numbers are on the high side, lifestyle modifications can be made to improve your numbers and your heart health.”

Atwood said it is sad when 60-year-old women come to her office claiming that they haven’t been to a doctor in years. 

“It is sad because they didn’t know their numbers or their risk factors and at 60 they have missed out on 20+ years of opportunities to prevent heart disease by losing weight, eating right, and exercising,” Atwood said. “Anyone over the age of 40 should see their primary care doctor yearly.”

Regular physical activity is also important to not only improve numbers and risk factors, but to also know that your body is doing OK. If a person is physically active on a regular basis, they will be the first to know if something changes inside their body. An inactive person may not know or realize what should be normal and what is not.

“The main warning sign and symptom of heart disease is chest pain or pressure with physical exertion,” Atwood said. “Some people claim it feels like heartburn, but if the pain comes consistently with exertion, it is probably not indigestion.”

Many women and men have no symptoms of heavy or sharp chest pain until they are having a life-threatening heart attack. This is why it is so important to receive regular screening tests, participate in regular physical activity and know your risk factors.

“An often overlooked risk factor is a family history of heart disease,” Atwood said. “It is the one risk factor that cannot be modified. If a first degree relative such as a parent, sibling or child has a heart event, or a history of heart disease, be sure to get yourself checked. Family history matters.”

Cardiovascular disease is a modifiable disease. See a doctor regularly to uncover risk factors and develop a game plan to modify and reduce risks and start making heart healthy choices to protect your heart.

“Heart disease can be very scary if caught unaware,” Atwood said. “Paying attention to risk factors and numbers can save you from an acute heart event. By knowing individual numbers and risk factors, you can take steps to undo the damage and thus modify and change the future.”

Wearing red Feb. 7 is a chance to raise awareness for women’s heart disease and remind everyone to pay attention to their heart health by developing heart healthy habits starting today.

This Live Well column as part of a collaboration between healthcare professionals from the medical staffs of our not-for-profit Intermountain Healthcare hospitals and The Richfield Reaper.

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