February is National Heart Awareness month and what Black women need to know most is that cardiovascular disease is our number one killer.
It accounts for nearly 50,000 deaths in Black women each year. The term “cardiovascular disease” refers to problems with the heart and blood vessels. Almost 50% of Black women aged 20 and over have some form of heart disease. While these statistics may sound depressing, there is good news. There are many things that you can do to lower your risk for developing heart disease like getting a heart health screening. Here’s what you need to know.
What A Heart Health Screening Entails
In general, a heart health screening will assess five key numbers (see below). Your health care provider may also ask about your family history and lifestyle factors like smoking that put you at increased risk for heart disease.
- Total cholesterol. Total cholesterol is a combined measure of HDL cholesterol (good), LDL cholesterol (bad), and triglycerides (a type of fat found in your blood). Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all the cells in your body. Too much cholesterol in your body can cause plaque buildup in your arteries. This can lead to a common type of heart disease called coronary artery disease.
- HDL or high-density lipoprotein. This is known as the “good” cholesterol because it carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver. Your liver then removes the cholesterol from your body.
- Blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is when the force of blood flowing through your blood vessels is consistently too high. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is a major concern because it can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
- Blood sugar. Also referred to as blood glucose, it’s the main sugar found in your blood. It comes from the food you eat and is the body’s main source of energy. Your blood carries glucose to all of your body’s cells to use for energy. If your blood sugar is too high, you may develop diabetes, which can lead to serious problems like kidney or eye damage. Diabetes is a risk factor for developing heart disease.
- Body Mass Index. Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for heart disease. A good way to tell if you’re at a healthy weight is know your body mass index or BMI. Your BMI is based on your height and weight. A high BMI can be an indicator of high body fatness. Online BMI calculators can help you figure out your weight category (underweight, normal, overweight or obese).
Where Can I Get a Heart Health Screening
Women can always get a heart health screening and risk assessment during a routine checkup with a primary care provider. This requires you make an appointment in advance, travel to your health care provider’s office, and potentially pay for a medical visit. However, during the month of February, women can visit their local CVS on any Thursday to get a free heart health screening. There are 1100 CVS MinuteClinics in the United States and 1 in 2 Americans live within 10 miles of a MinuteClinic. The heart health screenings offered by CVS are supported by TYLENOL.
“A major benefit the CVS heart health screenings is that they provide free and easy access for people to get their numbers checked,” said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a cardiologist at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and volunteer medical expert for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement. “Sometimes people don’t go to the doctor for years, but they may walk into a CVS.”
Free screenings can provide helpful information about your health and empower you to make proactive changes. They should be considered a complement, but not a replacement for routine medical visits with a doctor.
When Should I Start
“Heart health screenings should begin at age 20,” says Steinbaum, noting that people with a strong family history of heart disease and other conditions like diabetes should talk to their doctor about how often they should get screened. That’s because higher risk patients may need more frequent screening and monitoring compared people who have an average risk for heart disease. It’s important to work in partnership with your doctor to develop a screening plan that’s right for you
Don’t Forget About Lifestyle Changes
About 80% of cardiovascular disease is preventable with lifestyle changes like diet, exercise, weight management, and quitting smoking. But for many women, lifestyle changes can be overwhelming. Remember to start small and keep the faith. Small changes can lead to big results over time. Ask your health care provider about heart health tools and resources to help you reach your goals.
For more information, visit Go Red for Women.