By Melissa Fertitta
February marks the 20th anniversary of the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women initiative.
Started in 2004, Go Red for Women prioritizes educating women about their risk for cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women, taking a life every 80 seconds, according to the AHA.
Each February, more than 50 countries participate with speaker series, luncheons, fashion shows and workplace events. Attendees wear red to show their solidarity in support of this mission.
Beachworx, Destin’s premiere coworking community, is hosting a Go Red for Women event on Wednesday, February 14 at 9 a.m. The breakfast will be informative for men and women. A local heart attack survivor will share her harrowing journey to a successful heart transplant. Inger Berg, Senior Director of Development and Community Health for the American Heart Association in the Florida Panhandle, will be on hand to discuss Life’s Essential 8, the AHA’s science-based recipe for improving cardiovascular health in all people. There will also be free blood pressure screenings.
Often called the “silent killer,” the AHA estimates that 45% of women over the age of 20 are living with some form of cardiovascular disease. This number can be influenced by the unique life stages women may experience, like pregnancy and menopause.
Pregnancy causes additional strain on a woman’s heart and blood vessels, which can uncover existing, unknown cardiovascular issues or create new ones that may last past pregnancy, especially if other risk factors exist, like obesity or gestational diabetes.
While menopause does not raise a woman’s risk for cardiovascular disease, some of the changes that may happen during this life stage can.
According to the AHA, many studies indicate estrogen reduces atherosclerosis by reducing low-density lipoproteins (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) and inflammatory processes in the vascular system. Estrogen may also act as an antioxidant.
After menopause, a woman’s body naturally makes very little estrogen and a decrease in this hormone during menopause may cause cholesterol to build-up in arteries, leading to increased heart attack and stroke risk.
Risk for metabolic syndrome also increases during menopause. Metabolic syndrome is a condition that usually includes three or more of the following risks: abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar.
Go Red for Women is designed to educate women about their unique risks and symptoms and empower them to take control of their cardiovascular health through education and self advocacy. The initiative also raises funds for women-focused research.
Next to the U.S. Government, the American Heart Association is the largest funder of heart disease and stroke research. But according to the AHA, only 38% of 2020 clinical trial participants were women. Go Red for Women events support the AHA’s commitment to funding research focused on women.
Events like the one being held at Beachworx on Valentine’s Day help educate men and women about risk mitigation and raise money to further the AHA’s mission of education, outreach and research.
Link to Beachworx Valentine’s Day event or visit Eventbrite and search ‘Go Red for Women Emerald Coast’: https://bit.ly/GoRedDestin.
By the Numbers
Blood pressure is an indicator of cardiovascular health, but what do the numbers mean?
• High blood pressure makes your heart work harder, which strains the heart and arteries.
• Systolic pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. A “normal” number, according to the CDC, is less than 120 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury). You might have high blood pressure if your systolic pressure is 130 mm Hg or higher.
• Diastolic pressure (the bottom number in a reading) measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats. If diastolic pressure is 80 mm Hg or higher, and stays high over time, it can put you at risk for cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke.
• Blood pressure is affected by physical activity, diet, cholesterol and alcohol consumption and tobacco use. Some influences we cannot control include genetics, heredity, age, race and ethnicity.
• A single high reading is not an immediate cause for alarm. Having blood pressure measures consistently above normal may result in a diagnosis of high blood pressure (or hypertension).
• If your blood pressure is normal (120/80 mm Hg or below these numbers), have it checked at least every two years. If it is high, follow your health care professional’s advice to control it and consider monitoring it more frequently. Find the AHA’s guidance on monitoring your blood pressure at home at this URL: https://bit.ly/home_BP
Women’s heart attack symptoms can be different from men’s.
Both men and women generally experience chest pain or discomfort, but women more often experience shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting and back or jaw pain.
Stroke symptoms are the same for men and women and present suddenly. Stroke symptoms can include numbness in the face or on one side of the body, confusion and trouble speaking or understanding, vision trouble in one or both eyes and severe headache. The acronym F.A.S.T. is an easy way to respond to warning signs of stroke.
F – Face drooping. Ask the person to smile. Is there drooping on one side or numbness?
A – Arm weakness. Is one arm weak or numb or drifting downward when asked to raise both arms.
S – Speech difficulties. Is it difficult for the person to correctly say a simple sentence? Are they difficult to understand?
T – Time to call for an emergency response if any of these symptoms present, even if they go away. Get the person to a hospital immediately.