Go Red for Women: Know your heart disease risk factors

Today is Go Red for Women day, part of a monthlong national campaign to raise awareness for women's heart health. According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease impacts about 44 million women in the U.S. It's also the leading cause of death for American women, with about 300,000 deaths each year. But a recent CVS Health survey finds that less than half of women are aware of the danger.

Part of the issue is that women "don't recognize the risk factors and how to manage them," said CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula, who is a cardiologist at Northwell Health.

The survey found about 60 percent of women don't know critical components of their cardiac health, like their cholesterol numbers, blood sugar levels or body-mass index.


Cardiologist and CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula

CBS News

"You need to be armed with that information and then have your doctor tell you what your risk is of cardiovascular disease and work with you on managing your risk factors," Narula said.

The American Heart Association says 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease or stroke. Risk factors include high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, obesity, smoking, stress and family history.

"Ask your family members. When did they get diagnosed? What did they die from? You need to have that information and bring it to your doctor. Once you know that, in a way, it's almost like the deck is stacked a little against you. So you have to be even more aggressive about managing your risk factors," Narula said.

Another problem is that the medical community has "understudied women," Narula said.  

"We have underdiagnosed them, and we have undertreated them. They don't get the same medical or procedural treatments that men receive," she said.

Organizations are now trying to personalize the message for women, putting faces to heart disease.

"If you go to the [Go Red for Women] website, it says 'Real Women. Real Stories.' And I think if you see the face of a 40-year-old woman who says, 'I was fit and exercising and I had a heart attack,' or a 35-year-old woman had a stroke, suddenly it becomes personal and not just a statistic that one woman dies every minute. It means more," Narula said.