Empowering Women in the Fight against Heart Disease

Izzy Okparanta

Cardiovascular disease – including stroke – is the top killer of women, said Dr. Maria Duca of Virtua Health System Cardiology Group during a February 6 Women and Heart Health briefing organized by WomenHeart and the American Heart Association.

“We are dying less in the last several years but we are still dying more than men,” Duca said. “It’s a women’s disease.”

The briefing was one of many events that will take place nationwide in observance of American Heart Month in February. In particular, WomenHeart sought to educate women about their unique cardiovascular disease risk factors and provide them with the appropriate steps to take in addressing those factors.

“Our mission is to empower women” through education, support and training, said WomenHeart CEO, Mary E. McGowan.

WomenHeart advocate Starr Mirza shared the story of her long road to diagnosis with Long QT syndrome, a type of arrhythmia. Mirza recalled years of feeling extreme fatigue, tingling in her arms and leg, and fainting spells during her teens.

“Some doctors assumed that I was faking the symptoms for attention,” Mirza said. She stressed the importance of being a staunch advocate when it comes to one’s health and following your gut even when doctors seem skeptical.

Duca highlighted several lesser-known risk factors – unique to women – that can increase the odds of developing cardiovascular disease, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, pre-eclampsia, and breast cancer treatment.

“Certain risk factors highlight the need for more gender-specific research,” Duca said.

The event, which was held in coordination with the Congressional Coalition on Heart and Stroke, also featured guest speaker Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who emphasized the need to make health research, particularly women’s health research, a priority.

“What we need to be doing more than anything else is making sure there is adequate funding in CDC and NIH for FY17,” said Smith, who is working with other lawmakers to secure $3.4 billion for the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “Money does make the difference.”

To learn about research initiatives supported by the American Heart Association, visit http://bit.ly/AHA_Research

Izzy Okparanta is the Senior Communications Specialist at Research!America.

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