Photo: Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz, Director of the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center, participated in the 2013 Health Matters conference panel “Access to Healthy Lifestyles.” During the conference, the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center announced their commitment of $2 million to create a campaign for awareness, advocacy, and prevention about women’s heart disease.
While it is always important for us to take steps to improve all aspects of our health, this month, I encourage you to focus specifically on your cardiovascular health. As we recognize February as American Heart Month, it is critical for us understand just how deeply cardiovascular disease is affecting those we care about.
Heart disease is consistently the leading cause of death for Americans across the board. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that heart disease contributed to 1 in 4 American deaths that year – more than 600,000 deaths. And, it is an alarming fact, and a surprisingly well-kept secret, that heart disease is the number one killer of women – one out of every two women in America will be impacted at some point in their lives by cardiovascular disease.
At the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center, we lead the field in biomedical research used to identify female-pattern heart disease, and use this research to educate both the public and the medical community. We’ve found that, during the last 50 years, cardiac research has been conducted primarily on men – and while this research has undoubtedly advanced our overall knowledge and treatment of heart disease, we know that heart disease often presents very differently in women. Our goal at the center is to close this gender-gap in heart disease research and prevention by focusing on female cardiovascular health, and the specific ways that women experience and present the symptoms of the disease. And while we’ve made significant progress made over the last 20 years, the medical community’s knowledge of women’s heart disease is still 35 years behind what we know about men’s heart disease.
All the research and data in the world, however, won’t help us make an impact on the disease unless we’re able to reach more women with the knowledge they need to fight it. Currently, awareness that female cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women is at 50 percent. This is why, at the Clinton Foundation’s Health Matters conference last month, we announced that the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center is pledging $2 million to significantly raise the level of women’s awareness about heart disease through a campaign of advocacy and education. Our campaign utilizes the Center’s resources to provide women with the tools necessary to take control of their cardiovascular health. We know that women make the majority of healthcare-related decisions in the home, and by supplying these resources we can empower women to advocate for heart health for themselves, their families, and their communities.
While the discourse of heart disease has traditionally focused on men, women have an important role to play in changing the face of the disease in our country. Together we can raise awareness about cardiovascular health and the rise of heart disease related deaths in the United States.