It’s November. School is in full swing. Summer is a distant memory. Now is the time when many of us finally feel like things are really settling into a nice routine. So here’s one more to-do to add to the list this fall, one that may save your life: Make an appointment with your doctor and speak to her about what you can do to optimize your heart health.
If you think this is obvious, think again: I was surprised by a recent study published in the American College of Cardiology that showed that as many as 45 percent of American women were largely unaware that every year, 400,000 Americans die as a result of cardiovascular disease. Women are particularly vulnerable, and more are lost to heart disease than all forms of cancer combined. The study also showed that many women have never even discussed heart health with their doctors.
We all know that the more often you have regular checkups by doctors the more likely you are to prevent disease or identify disease at an earlier stage. Yet the study, sadly, found that sixty-three percent of women admitted putting off going to the doctor at least sometimes, and as many as 45 percent reported that they called to cancel or postpone an appointment until they lost weight. It’s little wonder, then, that only 22 percent of primary care physicians felt prepared to assess cardiovascular risk in women, a vicious cycle that leaves millions of American women needlessly at risk.
Put simply, your heart health begins in your head. Most women have at least one risk factor for heart diseases, and most heart disease is preventable, which means that it’s up to you to stop it. You can start by seeing your doctor, and then taking the steps you need to improve your health, from eating better to getting more exercise.
Of course, that’s easier said than done, and our society, sadly, still places a stigma on heart disease or continues to think of it as a “ man’s disease”. That’s why charting a course to a healthier lifestyle ought to be more than just a personal responsibility; it ought to be a national priority. While health insurance premiums and preexisting conditions and coverage rates remain big and contentious issues, simple and effective outreach programs, the sort proven to work again and again in so many public health issues, are much easier to implement. While our politicians continue to debate how best to fix our health care system, Republicans and Democrats can show us that their heart is in the right place, no pun intended, by championing quick and efficient legislation that will both help cardiovascular specialists partner with primary care doctors and other clinicians , particularly Ob/Gyn specialists on properly assessing and treating women with heart disease and educate women about the importance of understanding and minimizing the risks that they face.
For too long, women’s health has been a partisan battlefield in this country. Maybe this year we can declare our independence from needless political divide and come together to help our mothers, sisters, wives, daughters and friends stay heart -healthy.
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Dr. Stacey Rosen is Vice President, Women’s Health, Katz Institute for Women’s Health at Northwell Health, New York’s largest health system and the co-author of Heart Smart for Women – Six S.T.E.P.S. in Six Weeks to Heart-Healthy Living.