Women are the focus of 2018’s American Heart Month

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published February 5, 2018

Key Takeaways

February is American Heart Month and, for the occasion, the American Heart Association (AHA) is putting the focus on women’s heart health.

“Women’s issues are now front and center in our national conversation, yet cardiovascular diseases still kill nearly one in every three women each year. In fact, today, heart disease claims more lives than all forms of cancer combined, and we still don't fully understand the role gender plays,” said AHA CEO Nancy Brown. “That is unacceptable.”

Cardiovascular diseases are the number one killer of women, yet fewer than 20% of women consider heart disease or stroke to be the greatest health problem they face, according to AHA.

Here is a roundup of recent news and research related to women’s heart health:

Severe pre-eclampsia often leads to undetected hypertension after pregnancy
Women with severe preeclampsia can be seven times more susceptible to develop future cardiovascular disease compared with women with a normal blood pressure during pregnancy, according to new research published in Hypertension.

Researchers found that among women with severe preeclampsia, 41.5% had hypertension one year after delivery. The most common types were masked hypertension, sustained hypertension, and white coat hypertension.

“Our findings suggest women who have high blood pressure during pregnancy should continue to monitor their blood pressure long after they’ve delivered their babies. It’s not only important to monitor blood pressure in the doctor’s office, but also at different times of the day and night, at home,” said study author Laura Benschop, MD, Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, Netherlands. “Women who know their numbers can take the proper steps to lower their blood pressure and avoid the health consequences of high blood pressure later in life.”

Breast cancer treatments may increase heart disease risk
Breast cancer patients may be at an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and may benefit from a treatment approach that weighs the benefits of specific therapies against potential damage to the heart, according to a statement from the AHA.

Breast cancer survivors—especially women aged 65 years and older—are more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than from breast cancer. This fact underscores the importance of effectively managing heart disease risk factors during and following cancer treatment, the AHA recommended.

Mental stress-induced peripheral vasoconstriction more likely in women
In people with heart disease, peripheral vasoconstriction during periods of mental stress can affect heart circulation in women more than in men. This has the potential to raise women’s risk of heart-related events and death, according to a study published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.

“It is very important to advise both women and men with heart disease about interventions to reduce stress, and to refer them to other professionals if they need help with depression or anxiety,” said the study’s senior author Viola Vaccarino, MD, PhD, Emory University School of Public Health, Atlanta, GA.

Venous thromboembolism linked to short-term mortality risk in breast cancer patients
Breast cancer patients are at approximately twice the risk of mortality shortly after a venous thromboembolism (VTE), according to researchers in a meta-analysis published in BMC Cancer.

VTE events in women with breast cancer are likely to occur either during or immediately following chemotherapy or in the first month following surgery, the researchers found.

The detrimental impact of VTE on cancer survival may be explained by the complex mechanisms underlying the symbiotic relationship between coagulation and tumor factors, the researchers speculated. “It is hypothesized that VTE, even at the subclinical level of biochemical hypercoagulability, may have a role in promoting cancer growth and metastases and be associated with a more aggressive tumor behavior,” they wrote.

More and higher intensity physical activity may significantly reduce risk of death in older women
Moderate to vigorous physical activity, like brisk walking, cut the risk of death up to 70% among the most active older women in a four-year study. Results were published in Circulation.

“We observed a strong inverse association between overall volume of physical activity and all-cause mortality. Although this inverse relation is not novel, the magnitude of risk reduction (≈60%–70%, comparing extreme quartiles) was far larger than that estimated from meta-analyses of studies using self-reported physical activity (≈20%–30%),” researchers wrote.

Make a Commitment

Through its Go Red For Women® campaign, which advocates for more research and swifter action for women's heart health, AHA is asking all women to take their heart health seriously by making an official Go Red Commitment during American Heart Month.

For the Go Red Commitment, women (and men) can make a personal commitment to get active, eat healthy, monitor their blood pressure, join My Research Legacy™, or donate to Go Red.

“There is no better time than now for women to come together and make a Go Red Commitment to take action for women’s heart health,” said AHA’s Nancy Brown.

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