By Matt Norman
It is a common misconception that heart disease is a men’s problem. While this is a major problem for men, it doesn’t mean women are safe. In fact, 1 in 3 female deaths each year is a result of heart disease or stroke. This means one death every 80 seconds. As an RN with nearly 20 years of ER experience, I saw the tragic impact of this first hand. Sadly, as few as 50% of women have any idea that heart disease is their number one killer. Fortunately, there are some women that are passionate about changing ALL of these statistics.
Candice Hardee is one of those woman. As a long time cardiology nurse, Candice has gained first hand knowledge and a passion for helping women lead heart healthy lives.
“When it comes to women and heart disease, it comes down to risk factor modification. We can’t control our genetics or family history, so we need to be proactive in managing the various factors we can control,” she explains. Going to regular checkups with a physician, regulating blood sugar, limiting tobacco and alcohol use, and staying active and living a healthy lifestyle are all ways one can positively affect the impact of heart disease.
The CDC recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise 4-5 times per week. Controlling high blood pressure is another major way to decrease risk of heart disease. In fact high blood pressure is second only to smoking as causes for heart disease and stroke. So, while we can’t control every factor that puts us at risk for heart disease, there are a variety of factors that can and should be managed to reduce your risk of becoming part of the statistic.
Additionally, Candice says it’s important to understand women usually present atypical symptoms when it comes to identifying heart attacks or heart issues. “In my time as a cardiology nurse, the most common symptom I saw in women having heart attacks was not chest pain, but jaw, back, or even shoulder pain. Sometimes there might not even be any chest pain at all,” she says. Many women aren’t aware of these uncommon symptoms, and that causes many of them to not be alarmed and seek help.
Outside of better education and an emphasis on risk factor modification, the importance of community initiatives in making women aware of their risk is an extremely important aspect as well. Two such initiatives are the American Heart Walk and Go Red for Women campaigns. Ann Barnhart, CEO of Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center, was the Chair for the 2018 Polk County Heart Walk and is a passionate advocate for women’s heart health.
Before becoming an administrator, Ann was a nurse. As such she has seen this problem from the boardroom to the hospital room. This experience lead her to be part of the Polk County Heart Walk.
“Sharing a cause that I am passionate about has always come naturally to me, and that’s exactly what I got to do when serving as the Chair for last year’s walk. These are people who have in one way or another been impacted by heart disease, and it’s extremely important for members of our local health community to connect with them,” she explains.
While the Heart Walk provides a great opportunity to come together as a community, the event provides much more than meets the eye. “It’s not really about the walk, but the knowledge and commitment to keeping heart disease from being the number one killer. After all, the walk is simply an event, but the impact and awareness it can bring lasts long after the walk ends. At the end of the day, it’s about awareness, education, support… all to get people to realize that if they live a healthier lifestyle, they CAN prevent it,” explains Ann.
As the 2019 Chair of Go Red for Women Tampa Bay, Susan Stackhouse is another woman passionate about fighting heart disease. In her own words, Go Red for Women, “is a force for change to eradicate heart disease and stroke in women all over the world.” Launched in 2004 with a passion for raising awareness, it has grown into so much more. Thanks to the efforts of Go Red for Women, more people know that heart disease is the leading cause of death among women.
Susan’s passion for women’s heart disease is intensely personal and multigenerational. At the age of 72 her mother had a heart attack. After being evaluated by the ER, she was sent home with a diagnosis of indigestion and a pinched nerve in her neck. The astute evaluation of Susan’s sister, an RN, lead her mother back to the hospital where she had surgery to bypass two blocked arteries in her heart, and to replace a faulty heart valve. Susan’s mother lived another 14 years after that, but her personal connection to this cause does not end there. Susan also has a nine year old daughter and realizes that her efforts now can save the life of her own little girl, and others like her, for many years into the future.
The Go Red campaign is about more than simply raising awareness. For 2019 they have a goal to raise $1 million, as well as a mission goal. As Susan puts in, “Our mission goal centers around educating and informing the OB/GYN community to promote heart health with their patients, most specifically around blood pressure.” Sadly, the majority of women, especially under the age of 60, do not have a primary care doctor. Instead, they depend on their OB/GYN to fill that roll. Getting those offices on board can help to educate countless more women. Their fundraising efforts go to fund this sort of education as well as gender-specific medical research, public health education, and programs to empower young girls to adopt healthy lifestyles.
The thought that 1 in 3 women will die of heart disease or stroke is alarming. Thankfully, many women, like those mentioned. By adopting healthier lifestyles, managing risk factors, and staying proactive in the fight against heart disease, we can help change the 1 in 3 statistic for the better.