Every 80 seconds a woman dies of heart disease and stroke; 80 percent may be prevented 

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To think of heart disease and stroke as America’s leading killers of women is alarming, until you factor in the good news: 80 percent of cardiovascular diseases may be prevented with awareness and action.

In celebration of Heart Month, the American Heart Association (AHA) urges women to take three actions to improve their heart and brain health.

  1. Understand your family history. Find out if any of your immediate family members have had a heart attack or stroke, or has high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes. Equipped with this vital information, you and your doctor can begin taking steps to manage your risk factors and prevent the same conditions that might have shortened the lives of previous generations in your family.
  2. Know your numbers. Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to get the following numbers checked: total cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index (BMI). These numbers are important because they determine one’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease by atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, which includes conditions like angina (chest pain), heart attack, stroke (caused by blood clots) and peripheral artery disease (PAD).
  3. Make simple lifestyle changes. Small steps can make a big difference when it comes to heart and brain health. You don’t have to do it all at once, but adding more and more healthy habits to your daily routine will start you on the right path. Here are a few tips:
  • Move more every day and find forms of exercise that you enjoy and will stick to. The AHA recommends getting at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most or all days of the week. You can start by making small choices throughout the day, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or choosing the furthest parking spot and walking to your destination.
  • Eat better, consuming a wide variety of nutritious foods from each of the basic food groups. Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, at least two servings of fish per week and three 1-oz servings of fiber-rich whole grains daily. Limit saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • If you smoke, quit. Smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States. As soon as you stop smoking, your risk of heart disease and stroke starts to drop. Quit-smoking programs are available through hospitals, and many states have hotlines with trained staff to help.

The American Heart Association also recommends learning the warning signs of a heart attack and stroke.

Chest pain and radiating discomfort in the left arm are common heart attack symptoms for both men and women. Women, however, may experience other warning signs, including shortness of breath, back or jaw pain and nausea. Call 9-1-1 immediately at the first sign of symptoms.

Remember the acronym F.A.S.T. for the warning signs of stroke: Face drooping, Arm weakness and Speech difficulty. When you see these symptoms, it’s Time to call 9-1-1.

The American Heart Association’s mission is building healthier lives, free of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. Go Red For Women is the AHA’s national movement to end heart disease and stroke in women. It advocates for more research and swifter action for women's heart health. The campaign is nationally sponsored by Macy's and CVS Health, with additional support from local sponsors Union Bank and Huntington Hospital.

Learn more at www.heart.org. To get involved locally, visit lagored.heart.org