February 24, 2024

Heart Disease: Not an ‘Old Person’s Disease’

By Mary Schuermann Kuhlman

Whether you’re hunkered down at home or out on the job today, Ohioans are urged to wear red. The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Day is in its 18th year, drawing attention to the fact cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women, ahead of cancer and other diseases.

Brianne Ballard, senior director of communications and marketing for the American Heart Association in Columbus, said you’re never too young to be thinking about heart health.

“Heart attacks are on the rise in younger and younger women,” Ballard reported. “It’s actually the number one killer of women over the age of 20. You know, there’s a misconception that it’s an old person’s disease or an old man’s disease, and the research shows us it’s just not the case.”

She added there are seven key health factors tied to improving cardiovascular health: not smoking, healthy diet and weight, physical activity, as well as controlling cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.

Reducing stress also is beneficial, as it connects to increased blood pressure.

Ballard pointed out women tend to put the health and needs of others above themselves.

“Women are busy. Women are the caretakers for just about everyone in their life,” Ballard observed. “They may be juggling a career, they might be juggling a family. We need them to get to the doctor just like they would make sure that their spouse or their kiddo or their parent got to the doctor.”

Ballard noted another issue is, for decades, a certain extent of research focused primarily on men. 

“We need to do better,” Ballard asserted. “We need to get more women enrolled in our research and in our clinical trials. And when we do that, it changes the information we can provide and our guidelines that can be provided to the physicians to better treat women specifically.”

Ballard emphasized heart-attack warning signs can be different for women than for men, including extreme fatigue, nausea and pain in the jaw and back. Heart disease claims the life of one in three women.

Reporting by Ohio News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation