The AHA: champions of women’s health
The first Friday in February is a day set aside by the American Heart Association to support their Go Red for Women campaign to raise awareness of heart disease and stroke.
In years past, heart disease was only considered to affect predominantly men. Clinical trials, guidelines, and even treatment options were largely male dominated. National Wear Red Day kicks off an entire month dedicated to raising awareness and education for women.
The natural history of heart disease is altered by basic interventions, including learning how to make evidence-based heart-healthy choices that affect behaviors, lifestyles, and of course, diet. The AHA estimates that up to 80% of cardiac and stroke events may be prevented through patient-centric education and action. Sex-specific interventions and education play a critical role in preventative care. The American Heart Association has been at the forefront at championing awareness and evidence-based guidelines for prevention of cardiovascular disease in women. In 1999, the AHA was a trail blazer, publishing the first women-specific guidelines. In 2003, the AHA and the NHLBI inaugurated National Wear Red Day.
Major trials, such as the Women’s Health Initiative have demonstrated that the clinical approach to cardiovascular disease in women differs from the male-based one-size-fits-all approach that was practiced in years past. A perfect illustration is the erstwhile recommendation for aspirin as primary prevention for males is not recommended for women <65 years.
Research has demonstrated significant need to develop guidelines and evidence-based practices for women. For example: women tend to suffer ischemic stroke at a higher rate than men – stroke is a greater CV risk than atherosclerosis in women, while it is the opposite for men. Furthermore, women have different risk factors for stroke, such as pregnancy and hormone therapy. Hypertension, a major risk factor for stroke, tends to increase more so for women than men. Until the guidelines, women also were less likely to receive anticoagulation therapy for stroke prevention in atrial fibrillation. These interventions have shown initial success. Age-adjusted mortality from CV disease dropped substantially from years past, although CV disease still claims US women at a rate of 500,000 per year. Today, heart disease is still a killer. Despite successes, obesity and other modern diseases may be reversing the trend, and deaths from CV disease are increasing in middle-aged women. Furthermore, there are racial and socioeconomic disparities in prevalence and CV morbidity and mortality. Hypertension, dyslipidemia, obesity, and Type 2 Diabetes all contribute to developing CV disease. Education and awareness are key, and the AHA campaign is a wide-ranging educational program that socializes key differences by sex in symptomology, treatment strategies, and importance of proactive, health-generating or saving behaviors. Interventions can be relatively simple, such as education to recognize the signs and symptoms of a heart attack (and to call 9-1-1 when the symptoms are perceived), dietary, exercise, and smoking cessation measures.
We at the Connell Group proudly will be wearing red this Friday, February 3 in support of continuing education, awareness, and to support evidence-based guidelines to prevent CV disease in women.