As Valentine’s Day approaches, women should think about more than just their sweethearts

Health officials bring attention to heart disease for American Heart Month

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Photos by Daniel Green | Signal Tribune
Employees at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center gathered to form a giant heart on National Wear Red Day Friday, Feb. 1, to celebrate the beginning of American Heart Month. The event is meant to raise awareness of heart disease in women.

On Friday, Feb. 1, nearly 100 employees from MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center gathered in front of Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital to form a “human” heart to bring attention to National Wear Red Day, the beginning of American Heart Month.

The goal of National Wear Red Day is to spread awareness of heart disease in women, the leading cause of death for women in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Long thought to be a disease that predominantly affects men, the holiday hopes to change this belief.

“February is heart month,” Cindy Peters, a women’s cardiac health nurse practitioner, told the Signal Tribune. “So, we try to get the word out there about women and heart disease and the importance of checking your risk factors by knowing your cholesterol scores and that kind of thing.”

According to the CDC, heart disease killed 289,758 women in 2013– about one in every four female deaths. The CDC also reports that even though the illness kills women and men at roughly the same rate, only 54 percent of women surveyed are aware of the dangers of heart disease.

“Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women,” Peters said. “A lot of times, women think that [it is] breast cancer, which is not true. So, the word is getting out there more and more that women have a great risk for heart disease just like men.”

Photos by Daniel Green | Signal Tribune
Employees from MemorialCare Long Beach wore red to raise awareness on the first day of American Heart Month

One of the major challenges in informing women about the dangers of heart disease is how to recognize it. One of the common misconceptions is that men and women who suffer from the disease experience the same symptoms. However, the warning signs, such as those of heart attacks, can affect women differently.

“Men have the classic chest pain, jaw pain [and] chest pressure,” Peters said. “Women [have] a lot more nausea […], back pain and even jaw pain or arm pain and fatigue. So, they don’t have that, ‘Oh, my gosh. I’m having a heart attack’ moments sometimes.”

According to the CDC, two-thirds of women who die suddenly from coronary disease showed no symptoms of illness before their death. Sometimes, the disease is only caught after female patients show obvious symptoms of a heart attack or stroke.

One of the many ways women can lower their chance of heart disease is to lower their risk factors. Risk factors include diabetes, smoking, obesity, poor diet, lack of physical activity and excessive alcohol use.

According to the CDC, almost half of Americans (49 percent) are at risk from high blood pressure, LDL cholesterol or smoking.

To combat these risk factors, the CDC suggests that patients keep track of their blood-pressure levels and check cholesterol and triglycerides with their doctor. Lowering stress, quitting smoking and cutting back on alcohol consumption can also lower chances of future heart disease.

Women can take further measures to assess their risk by checking their family tree to see if any female family members had heart disease or a stroke before the age of 65. Other factors can include age, race and previous heart problems.

Women can talk to their medical provider for more information. Long Beach Medical Center will also be hosting its 12th annual Women’s Heart and Stroke Seminar on Saturday, Feb. 23, from 7:30am to 2pm. The event will include a lecture on the risks of heart disease and provide screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol and more. The fee for attendance is $25 and will include breakfast and lunch.

For more information about the event, visit bit.ly/2RJa3bz.