February is American Heart Month - Women Veterans Health Care
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February is American Heart Month

Every February, the country unites around a common mission: to bring awareness of the risks of heart disease and stroke with the goal of reducing the number of lives lost to its related illnesses.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death and disability in women in the U.S. One in three women die from cardiovascular diseases and stroke each year, and every 100 seconds a woman in the United States has a heart attack.

These are startling numbers, and women Veterans aren’t exempt from them.

Fortunately, about 80 percent of heart disease and stroke events are preventable. VA joins the American Heart Association (AHA) again this February to Go Red for Women* and encourages women Veterans to Live Fierce by taking control of their heart health.

Awareness of your risk factors, knowing your heart health numbers, and making healthy lifestyle choices can reduce your risks. Your efforts can also lower your risk for other diseases like diabetes and cancer.

Be Heart Smart. Know Your Risks. Eat Well. Get Fit.

VA and AHA want you to be aware of five important heart health numbers* because they help providers determine your risk for developing cardiovascular disease:

  • Total Cholesterol
  • HDL (good) Cholesterol
  • Blood Pressure
  • Blood Sugar
  • Body Mass Index (BMI)

VA health care providers can talk with you about your risks, help you learn and monitor your numbers, and partner with you to create a heart health plan with realistic and achievable goals. Schedule a visit with your provider today.

Heart Disease in Women

The symptoms of heart attack can be different in women versus men and are often misunderstood—even by some physicians. Heart attack signs for women can be subtle and sometimes confusing.

Like men, the most common heart attack symptom for women is chest pain or discomfort. However, women may also experience other heart attack symptoms such as those depicted below.

Know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and call 9-1-1 to seek immediate medical attention if you experience them. Fewer women than men survive their first heart attack. Getting help quickly can help you survive and make a full recovery, but every 30 minutes you wait to get help can take one year off your life.

Heart Attack signs

Know Your Risks

According to a recent American Heart Association survey, only one in ten women named heart disease as the greatest threat to a woman’s health, while six in ten pointed to breast cancer. Additionally, research shows heart attacks are on the rise in younger women, while at the same time our youngest and most diverse generations of women - Gen Z and Millennials – are less likely to be aware of their greatest health threat.

This lack of awareness has consequences, such as misunderstanding symptoms or delaying seeking treatment. Although more women die from heart disease than men each year, related risk factors* are often missed.

There are some uncontrollable factors that can increase the risk of heart disease in women, such as age, gender, race, and family history. Other risk factors include:

  • Preeclampsia
  • Diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes)
  • Tobacco use
  • High blood pressure/hypertension
  • High cholesterol or triglyceride levels
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Stress
  • Illicit drug use
  • An autoimmune condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus

VA encourages women Veterans to get regular checkups with their providers and to know their numbers because early heart disease may not cause any symptoms. VA provides a whole health approach to care with state-of-the-art services to meet women’s unique needs, and your VA health care provider can partner with you to assess your individual heart disease risks, learn your heart health numbers, and create a health plan with realistic and achievable goals.

Prevent Heart Disease

It's never too soon – or too late – to take steps to prevent a heart attack.

  • Quit smoking. Learn ways to quit with VA’s tobacco cessation program. And if you don’t smoke, don’t start!
  • Lower your BMI to approximately 25 through a healthy diet consisting of at least 5 fruits and vegetables a day and 30 minutes of vigorous exercise five days week. The VA’s MOVE! Weight Management Program can help you get started.
  • Take your prescribed heart disease medications. These can reduce your risk of a heart attack and help your damaged heart function better.
  • Manage your stress levels. VA’s Mindfulness Coach App is a convenient way for women Veterans to learn ways to reduce stress and improve their heart health.

Resources for Heart Health Support

Download Heart Health Poster

Heart Health Poster

At VA:

American Heart Association (AHA)*: Funds heart disease medical research studies and offers comprehensive information about various heart conditions and treatments. They also sponsor “Go Red for Women.”

The AHA’s Rise Above Heart Failure online community* offers a connection with others for support.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention*: Preventing heart disease and tips on what you can do about it.

Make the Call. Don't Miss a Beat*: National campaign to empower women to learn the seven most common symptoms of a heart attack. Also available in Spanish*.

Million Hearts*: National initiative to prevent a million heart attacks and strokes over five years.

*By clicking on these links, you will leave the Department of Veterans Affairs Web site.