We must combat heart disease

By U.S. Sen. Susan Collins

    Heart disease and stroke account for more than a quarter of all female deaths in Maine. On average, nearly five women die from heart disease and stroke in our state each day. Cardiovascular diseases are our nation’s number one killer, yet only one out of every five women is aware that heart disease is her greatest health threat.

    These statistics from the American Heart Association are troubling. However, we have the power to change them.

    Every year, since 1963, Congress and the President have joined together to proclaim February as American Heart Month to urge Americans to join the battle against these diseases. Eighty percent of cardiac events in women might be prevented if they made the right choices for their hearts, including diet, exercise and not smoking.

    The first step is education. Since 2003, the American Heart Association and other organizations have banded together to raise awareness among women of the threat from heart disease. The “Go Red” campaign has been a highly effective part of this effort. Friday, February 1, will mark the 10th annual “National Wear Red Day.” This is an opportunity to wear red in order to show your support for those who are living with or at-risk for heart disease, and to help raise awareness of cardiovascular diseases.

    Research shows that women who “Go Red” make healthier choices. More than one-third have lost weight and nearly 55 percent have increased their exercise. That is remarkable evidence of the effectiveness of the Go Red’s educational campaign.

    But we must do more. I’m pleased to report that, with my support, Congress recently enacted an important piece of the HEART (Heart Disease Education, Analysis, Research, and Treatment) for Women Act. Along with my Senate colleagues, I have worked for several years on the HEART for Women Act, bipartisan legislation that is a top priority of the American Heart Association.

    Our provision, that is now law as part of the FDA Safety and Innovation Act, strengthens analysis, research, and treatment efforts for women. Experts believe that a primary reason women are at such great risk is that the preponderance of studies have been targeted at men. As a result, women with heart disease are less likely to be diagnosed until their disease is at an advanced stage and less likely to receive aggressive treatment. In many cases, it is not even known whether new drugs approved by the FDA to treat cardiovascular diseases are safe and effective in women.

    This provision addresses this shortcoming by requiring the FDA to issue a report by July of this year and an action plan by July, 2014 to ensure that regulators, health care providers, and patients know how new prescription drugs and medical devices work in women and minorities.

    This body of knowledge will greatly increase the ability of our health care providers to diagnose and treat cardiovascular disease among their female patients.

    I’ve also been a long-standing supporter of a program that is already producing outstanding results. WISEWOMAN (Well-Integrated Screening and Evaluation for Women Across the Nation), which is administered by the Centers for Disease Control, provides heart disease and stroke prevention screening to low-income, uninsured and underinsured women in 20 states. Women who participate in WISEWOMAN are more likely to return to their health care provider for regular health screenings, and best of all, 10 percent who came into this program as smokers have quit! We should expand this proven program to all 50 states, including Maine.

    Go Red for Women celebrates the energy, passion and power we have as women to band together to lessen heart disease and stroke. The red dresses and clothing we see on February 1st, “Go Red Day,” symbolize our support for women who are touched by these diseases, and, just as important, they stand for our commitment to continuing the progress we have made against cardiovascular disease for all.

    The HEART for Women Act will join in this effort by providing much-needed knowledge and resources as we continue the fight against this silent yet devastating killer.

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