February is American Heart Month and February 2021 marks the 57th anniversary of the annual observance by the American Heart Association, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and other public health agencies.
President Lyndon Johnson created American Heart Month by proclamation in February 1964, nine years after Johnson himself had a heart attack.
While significant progress has been made in reducing heart disease since then, cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke combined) is the cause of death for approximately 2,300 people per day, according to the AHA. With obesity at record highs among all age groups in the nation, the AHA notes that American youths are being diagnosed with heart disease at earlier ages.
Other heart health facts from the AHA:
- Heart disease kills more people than all forms of cancer combined.
- Heart attacks affect more people every year than the population of Dallas. (In 2020, that figure was 1,344,917 people.)
- 72% of Americans don’t consider themselves at risk for heart disease and 58% put no effort into improving their heart health.
Despite those statistics, the AHA asserts that heart disease — up to 80% of cardiac events — may be prevented by making healthy life choices such as not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, controlling blood sugar and cholesterol, treating high blood pressure, getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week and having regular medical checkups.
Women and heart diseaseAfter working in Atlanta for 13 years, cardiologist Dr. Sarah Jane Rinehart, an Elkins native and Marshall University School of Medicine graduate, returned to her home state in April 2020 to join the Charleston Area Medical Center medical staff.
“I’ve done a lot of work with women and prevention. A lot of times, women think of breast cancer as the number one killer. Breast cancer affects one in seven women, but heart disease affects one in three women. A lot of times, too, people are very diligent in doing screenings for colon cancer, starting at age 50, maybe starting mammograms at 40 and getting Pap smears on a regular basis, but no one talks about heart screening, although heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women,” Rinehart said.
“Women can have some unique risk factors,” she added. “Some of the things are very similar — diabetes, hypertension, smoking. One of the things I try to focus on with women are the unique risk factors. They can start when they become pregnant a lot of times or not even related to pregnancy. Physical inactivity is considered a risk factor, as are autoimmune conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Chronic kidney disease is considered a risk factor. The premature onset of menopause or starting your period early are actually considered risk factors as well.
“It’s important when your doctor sees you they actually do not just a detailed cardiac history but also a detailed history of when you were pregnant and other issues.
“I don’t think there’s been as much a focus on prevention in the past, but we’re starting to think that way,” Rinehart said.
Recent developments she mentioned include calcium score screening and noninvasive heart catheter tests. “The heart cath tests can be sent off for analysis for both anatomy and physiology to see if it’s significant enough to cause symptoms. We’re taking a step toward the future with that, using it to adjust our studies appropriately,” she said.
Go Red for Women
Another February tradition, the AHA’s signature women’s initiative, Go Red for Women, includes a sartorial, straight-from-the-heart display of red garments to bring greater awareness to heart disease and its prevention, particularly for women.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the AHA and other organizations joined together in 2013 to raise awareness of women and heart disease. The NHLBI introduced the red dress as a national symbol for women and heart disease awareness, with Wear Red Day observed on the first Friday of each February.
More than just promoting a fashion choice for awareness and solidarity, however, Go Red for Women challenges women to know their risk for heart disease and take action to lower that risk.
More information about the initiative and joining the Go Red for Women Movement is available at www.goredforwomen.org.