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  • Kathy Antillano, Rita Asuquo, and Natalie Hamilton

February is American Heart Month

CMU medical students gather in main hall to wear red to bring awareness of heart issues to women

It’s the month February, and do you know what that means? Many Michiganders mark this as the end of a long winter with a hopeful spring on the horizon. However, February is also the official American Heart Month. On Friday, February 2nd, National Wear Red Day was celebrated across the country to bring awareness about the risk of heart disease and stroke in women. It was first celebrated by the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in 2003. Since then, it has continued to raise funds for education and research of cardiovascular diseases.

Currently, there continues to be the assumption that heart attacks occur mostly in men; however, heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, claiming around 500,000 lives every year. Despite this daunting number, 80% of cardiac risks can be prevented by making a few healthy changes. Since the introduction of this holiday, death from heart disease in women has decreased by 30%, and more women are becoming educated about the signs and symptoms. The goal of this movement is to provide woman with the knowledge they need to take a stand when it comes to their heart health. One way in which this is done is by making women aware of five simple, yet important, numbers. Knowing one’s total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and body mass index can help determine your risk for heart disease.


In terms of other risk factors, research studies have shown that there are gender differences. Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of heart attack in both genders; however, women who have high blood pressure, diabetes during pregnancy, or polycystic ovarian syndrome are at greater risk of having coronary artery disease. In addition, early onset of menopause or undergoing a hysterectomy, a surgical procedure where the uterus is removed, have twice the risk for heart disease. Even though there are some unique factors that increase the risk only in women, there are still factors that increase the risk in both genders, such as:

  • Diabetes/prediabetes

  • Mental stress and depression

  • Smoking Coronary artery disease

  • Obesity/overweight Inactivity

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol

  • Family history of early heart disease

  • Unhealthy diet


As cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in America, it goes without saying that seeking treatment is critical for living a healthier life. Primarily, the best treatment most doctors will prescribe is maintaining a well-balanced diet with more fruits and vegetables and a moderate exercise routine. Having a low-fat diet helps eliminate sources of fats, specifically cholesterol, and decreases fatty-material from building within arteries that causes high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It should be noted that control of diabetes can help diminish, and sometimes eliminate the complications of cardiovascular diseases.

Similarly, lifestyle changes such as walking, running, and swimming forces the heart to work harder. The increased pressure on the heart during these moments of exercise builds the heart muscles and allows the heart to push more oxygen throughout the body, all benefiting your health. Although most exercises are beneficial for cardiovascular health, it’s important that one stays within their limits and age. Patients are also warned to avoid smoking because it can constrict the arteries, furthering the complications of heart disease. Certainly, most health providers prefer adjusting diet and exercise before considering other options because these changes are simple, and, most often, free for patients.

Secondary to diet and exercise change, if cardiovascular complications continue to persist, it may be necessary for medical intervention. A common medication for patients with persistent high cholesterol are statin drugs that utilize various methods to stop the collection of cholesterol in the arteries of the body. Likewise, many doctors prescribe drugs such as beta- blockers, or ACE inhibitors. Baby aspirin may also be taken daily to reduce a person’s risks.

There are several mechanisms used to treat heart disease. Those suffering from complications should change their diet and lifestyle, and if prescribed medication, take as instructed to eliminate further complications. Overall, maintaining open-communication with your physician and asking questions about your health is critical. Know your five numbers and take a stand against heart disease!

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