Each February for American Heart Month, the American Heart Association promotes its signature women’s initiative, the “Go Red for Women” campaign. This multidisciplinary campaign is designed to increase women’s heart health awareness all year long and equip them with the knowledge to make potentially lifesaving changes in their heart health.
We asked Dr. Katie Berlacher, a cardiologist and director of the Magee-Womens Heart Program, to discuss the importance of this initiative and the care that UPMC provides.
Q: Why do we celebrate Go Red for Women and why is it so important?
A: The Go Red for Women is an initiative that was launched by the American Heart Association in 2004. Its goal is to raise awareness of cardiovascular disease, the number one cause of death in both men and women.
Each year during American Heart Month, we set out to dispel the myths about heart disease and stroke and empower women to take charge of their heart health.
Q: We constantly hear information about deaths from cancer and now the pandemic, but why do you think heart-related deaths are not discussed more?
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A: Unfortunately, we aren’t exactly sure. With cardiovascular disease being the number one killer of both men and women, it’s critical that people understand their risk factors and learn how to prioritize their heart health.
This year, we are encouraging people to “reclaim your rhythm,” an initiative that emphasizes caring for your mental and physical wellbeing. These past few years have been difficult for everybody, especially women. Many have experienced higher levels of stress and increased blood pressure and anxiety, which may lead to heart disease later in life if left unmanaged.
Q: Are there preventives steps women can take to reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease?
A: Absolutely. With the research funded by the American Heart Association, along with other organizations, we are learning how much of heart disease is preventable. Right now, we believe that more than 50% of cardiovascular diseases are preventable through behavioral modifications. These include:
- Exercising daily.
- Eating a healthy diet with fewer processed foods.
- Reducing your stress in healthy ways.
It’s also essential to get your heart checked regularly, including your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Regular screenings with your doctor give us the opportunity to catch any irregularities and work with you to make necessary lifestyle changes. We may prescribe medications that help manage your health and reduce your risk for developing cardiovascular disease.
Q: Every year for American Heart Month, the American Heart Association sets a goal to raise money for the Go Red for Women campaign. How important and how difficult is it to get funding for research?
A: It is very challenging these days. Research funds, like all funds, are limited and restricted. We have made significant progress recently raising money through the American Heart Association and money from our national government through places like the National Institute of Health.
We also work with the CDC and other institutes to raise awareness throughout the community so that we can increase education and prevent heart disease in the long run.
Q: How can we become better educated on cardiovascular disease to prioritize a healthy lifestyle?
A: There are simple ways that we can all increase our awareness and understand our risk for cardiovascular disease. It’s important to learn your basic heart health numbers, including:
- Blood pressure.
- Body mass index (BMI).
- Blood sugar.
- Family history.
Each of these factors can play a role in assessing your risk and overall heart health. You also can work with your health care provider to consider other factors that may influence your individual risk, including any additional diagnoses that you may have. It’s important that you take control of your risk factors to prevent a heart attack or stroke later in life.
Q: Tell us about some of the work you and your team of cardiologists are doing at the Magee-Womens Heart Program.
A: There is great work being done at the Magee-Womens Research Institute, which is one of our primary research partners. The clinical care that we provide and the daily work that we do in the hospital really feed into the research done by our physicians and scientists. We work collaboratively to give back to our patients so that we can constantly improve care.
For example, we are currently researching hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, including preeclampsia that occurs during pregnancy or immediately after. We want to provide the best care for women at that time and analyze how it affects their cardiovascular health 10 to 20 years in the future. That research is really evolving and allowing us to improve on the cardiovascular care that we provide our patients.
Q: How has the pandemic affected the progress of research and care?
A: The pandemic has presented an additional challenge in cardiovascular care. It has led to increased risk factors, including:
- Increased levels of stress.
- Weight gain.
- Decreased physical activity.
In addition to these risk factors, the pandemic has resulted in lapsed care, especially among women. People have not been as likely to prioritize their heart health and seek care from a physician to check their heart.
We are very hopeful in the promising research that is being done now. There is a lot of exciting energy feeding back into the community to get people to a better place in their health care.
Q: What does UPMC do to encourage people, specifically women, to seek care and prioritize their heart health?
A: At the UPMC Magee-Womens Heart Program, we provide patients with comprehensive, personalized care. Our team of experts understands that women face unique challenges in caring for their heart, and we are here to provide them with specialized care every step of the way.
We offer online resources, such as digital toolkits and webinars, designed to educate people on the risk factors and symptoms of cardiovascular disease. We also make it easy to schedule an appointment online and check your heart with one of our expert physicians.
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The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.