Yesterday 30 women in North Carolina lost their lives to heart disease, and by the end of the month, hundreds more will have fallen to this silent killer. Strokes, heart attacks, and related illnesses are the top cause of death for women by a large margin, leaving thousands of families without their wives, mothers, and sisters.
But while doctors excel at treating this illness, they are still closing in on predicting it and slowing its progression. Recently the American Heart and Lung Association, in coalition with the American College of Cardiology, released a new risk assessment. By evaluating risk factors such as cholesterol level and age, the new calculator was intended to produce a percent risk of heart disease over the next 10 years.
Within days of its release, critics were panning the new calculator, saying it over-predicted heart disease rates by as much as 150%. Researchers warned this could lead to unnecessary medications and worry for patients who were given an overly-high risk.
Statins are a class of medication prescribed to help lower cholesterol levels. Some scientists are concerned that the calculator’s higher rates of heart rate prediction will lead to prescription of drugs such as Lipitor and Zocor to people who don’t need them, or who would suffer from side effects needlessly.
As with any new medical tool, it will take time to see if the new calculator proves useful in lowering rates of heart disease. It’s always a good idea to discuss any new information with your doctor, who will help you decide if you need to make changes to your lifestyle or monitor your cholesterol closely.
Levels of good and bad cholesterols are an enormous predictor of future heart risk. In a 2011 study, more than 82% of North Carolina women reported having a cholesterol check within the last five years, a rate higher than in many other states. Unfortunately, women in rural areas, women of color, and those living in poverty often miss these checks, and ultimately pay the price, with higher rates of stroke, heart attack, and hospitalization due to heart disease.
If you haven’t had one lately, schedule a cholesterol screening with your doctor. It might be a good time to ask him or her about the 2013 CV Risk Calculator. After you finish with your doctor, call a friend. Research has shown that health has a social aspect, and healthy communities are often ones in which people talk to their friends and families about healthy lifestyles and choices.
The American Heart Association wants women to share their stories with each other, whether those are stories about someone you lost to heart disease, or a story about how you stay healthy. While you are at it, tweet @womenadvancenc and tell us your best 240-characters-or-less heart health tip. Here’s ours: Mix chia seeds into pasta sauces, yogurts, and desserts to get all your omega-3 fatty acids on the fly.