By Sheila Caldwell
The Heart2Heart Foundation
Imagine the headline: “Disease that kills more than a half a million people each year can be prevented!”
Let’s add to the story that, in the United States, most of us over the age of 20 have at least one risk factor for this disease.
It kills more than all cancers combined
We’re talking about heart disease — the No. 1 killer not only in America but around the world! Most of us only learn that we have this disease after we have a heart attack or, worse, our family finds out when we have died. For those of us who have a heart attack before age 65, 80 percent of us will not survive the first one.
Cardiovascular disease claims over 600,000 women and men in our country each year — most without warning. It kills more of us than all cancers combined, including breast, colon and lung cancer. Yet, most of us don’t know we have it until it is too late. What is hopeful is that studies show that by taking action, about half of those deaths could be avoided.
Let that sink in.
We are losing over a half a million loved ones annually to a largely PREVENTABLE disease!
Early detection can make a difference
Just as with other chronic diseases, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of heart disease can mean the difference between survival and premature death. It is frightening to think that 64 percent of women and 50 percent of men who died suddenly from cardiovascular disease didn’t report prior symptoms. Despite the fact that more women than men have died from heart disease since 1984, less than half of women understand that THIS is their greatest health threat.
As a heart attack survivor, at age 50, the first thing I learned was that pretty much everything I thought I knew about heart disease was from a man’s perspective. My greatest risk factor was family history; heart disease had affected my father, grandfather and most males on that side of the family in their 40s. Growing up around the disease, my understanding was based on men’s symptoms. Women can present very differently and are often under-diagnosed; we even miss the warning signs ourselves. That is why it is imperative to know our individual risk factors, get the screenings needed to help us in our prevention goals and know gender-specific warning signs.
While there are some risk factors you cannot change — family history, ethnicity, age or gender — you do have control over all of the others, including cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and smoking. By working with your doctor to understand your individual risk and developing a plan to prevent or manage those, you can prevent heart attack, stroke, or premature death.
Know Your Numbers
The first step in understanding your risk is to Know Your Numbers, including your cholesterol level, blood pressure and glucose level. For those who have borderline results, you still have time to turn things around, but you must act.
During February, American Heart Month, The Heart2Heart Foundation teams up with healthcare providers from around South Carolina to provide basic heart health screenings at little to no cost to women and men at least 18 years of age. Visit StatewideScreeningDay.com to find a location near you.
Once you Know Your Numbers, this basic information along with better nutrition, fitness, not smoking and taking medications as prescribed will serve as your road map for the prevention of not only heart disease but about 40 other diseases, including several forms of cancer.
Coronary Calcium Scoring
More of us are learning whether or not we have heart disease through an advance screening called Coronary Artery Calcium Scoring. The current recommendation for this screening includes men by the age of 45 and women at the age of 55. For adults who are at least 40 and have at least one risk factor for heart disease (that is most of us), this screening could give you the answers you need to protect your heart health.
Coronary Artery Calcium Scoring — a quick, non-invasive screening — is one of the most advanced methods available to detect heart disease in its earliest stages. To learn more about coronary calcium scoring, watch the ground-breaking documentary, “The Widowmaker,” on our website at TheHeart2HeartFoundation.org.
If you are at moderate-to-high risk for heart disease, talk to your doctor about ordering a Coronary Calcium Scan. The screening is not typically covered by insurance but many providers have a cash price that averages around $100.
For some, this screening will provide peace of mind and confirmation to keep following a heart healthy diet and fitness program and taking medications as prescribed.
For others, it can be the wake-up call that could save your life.