The #1 Killer of Men and Women: What You Need To Know About Heart Disease

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Sugar in Drinks“Heart disease is the #1 killer of both men and women in the US and worldwide.  In fact it kills more people than all cancer deaths combined.  Our colleagues in the cancer societies have done a great job of raising awareness, and we have to do the same thing for heart disease.”

Dr. Iva Smolens, Medical director of the Women’s Heart Center at Banner Heart Hospital in Phoenix, says one person dies of heart disease approximately every minute in the United States.  

While this is “Movember”, a movement to get men to pay better attention to their health during the month of November, two brand new studies have just been released that say young women may be less aware than men about the warning signs of heart disease, and less likely to get proper treatment.  

Women are not always aware of the symptoms because they are slightly different than men.  The most common complaint is flu-like symptoms; feeling poorly for a few days, fatigue, shortness of breath, and nausea.  

“Many women sit at home because they think they have a flu bug,” says Dr. Smolens.  “Women need to be much more proactive in their own health.  You have to start these conversations earlier.”  

This is the focus for the women who serve on the Phoenix Heart Ball Committee: Raising awareness and money for the American Heart Association.  Chairman Kimberly Afkhami chose childhood obesity as her platform this year.

“Going to the scientific sessions for the American Heart Association, I really truly saw the numbers for childhood obesity.  The effects that childhood obesity has on these children — their hearts and their health for the rest of their lives.  Obese children as young as age 3 show indicators for obesity later in life.”

Afkhami points to the Halle Heart Museum in Tempe, Arizona as an example of being proactive and teaching kids about heart health early.  “It is a hands on cardiovascular center and so much fun for the children to come down and learn how to live a healthy life,” Akfhami says.

One of the most impactful exhibits at the Museum is called “ReThink Your Drink”.  It shows the how much sugar is in the drinks we are giving our kids.  “Sugary beverages are probably one of the worst causes of obesity,” says Dr. Smolens, “30% of our adolescents or youth in the state of Arizona are considered overweight or obese.”

Childhood obesity in the United States has skyrocketed over the past 30 years, according to the CDC, and new research, just presented at an American Heart Association gathering in Florida, suggests children as young as 8 have developed “clear evidence of heart disease.”  

Dr. Smolens likes to direct people to the Simple 7.  Seven facts that you should know about yourself to help determine your risk factors:  Blood pressure, blood sugar, whether or not you have diabetes, how active you are, your cholesterol level, your weight and height, and your dietary type.  

Besides raising awareness about the risk factors for women and alarming rates of childhood obesity, The American Heart Association is also putting heavy focus on CPR training.  “CPR training in schools is one of the big missions of the American Heart Association.  You take cities like Seattle that have been really progressive about it.  It really matters.  It saves lives,” Dr. Smolens says.