GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan — Heart disease remains the number one killer of women in the United States. In Michigan, it is the number one killer of both men and women. February is federally designated "National Heart Month," a time to raise awareness about heart health and prevention.

"Listen to your bodies. If you think there's something wrong. ask, and don't stop asking until you find someone," says Stephanie Festian, a teacher and cardiovascular disease survivor."

Festian and her teen daughter both have Long QT Heart Syndrome. It is a genetic disorder that causes heart arrythmias and can cause sudden cardiac arrest.

"I had a cardiac arrest at age 18 and was okay after that with medication and lifestyle changes," said Festian. "Then five years ago I called my doctor and I said 'something still isn't right.' They checked and my condition was worsening. It would have been about three months before my next appointment but they got me in and because of that I was able to get a defibrillator implanted. That certainly help keep myself alive."

On average, cardiovascular disease kills one woman about every 80 seconds. That is one in every three women. More than 40% of Hispanic women over the age of 20 years old have cardiovascular disease. Heart disease claims the lives of more African-American women than all forms of cancer, accidents, assaults and Alzheimer's Disease combined.

Friday, February 7th is national "Go Red For Women" Day. The goal is simple -- to reduce those sobering statistics.

"This is a critical day to inform more people that cardiovascular disease is a woman's number one health risk," says Jeanne LaSargeBono, executive director of the American Heart Association in West Michigan. "We're getting that message across the United States for everyone to join, wear red and make a difference in preventing cardiovascular disease."

LaSargeBono says 80% of cardiac events can be prevented through education and lifestyle changes. She encourages women to moving more, eat smart and manage their blood pressure.

"Add color to your plate and be well reduce stress in your life, and know your numbers, it's important to take care of your health," she said. "But, the best advice I can give is to know more about the unique warning signs and symptoms that women have around cardiovascular disease. Know that you may display it differently than a man. You may feel jaw pain. You may feel pain down your back. You may feel nauseous or short of breath."

She says it is common, in women, to not exhibit the clinical signs of chest pain and arm pain. She agrees with Festian, "if something tells you this just isn't right, see your doctor."

Click here for more information on the Go Red For Women campaign and ways to improve heart health.


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