Your Heart Health Matters

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By Kim Howard, CAE | Photo credit: Philippe Noble Photography

Despite the mammoth pink ribbon campaign for breast cancer that occurs every October, heart disease is still the number one killer of women and the leading cause of death in the United States. One in five women is at risk of having a stroke. Every 39 seconds someone dies from heart disease and stroke. If the statistics sound ominous, Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center, the American Heart Association (AHA) and American Stroke Association (ASA) want you to know that you can lower your risk of dying from heart disease. The AHA reminds us all that 75 percent of cardiovascular disease in women may be prevented. Annually, February is Go Red for Women month, an awareness campaign created by the AHA. It was fitting that on February 28, more than 50 women all dressed in red, attended the Red Dress Luncheon at Travinia Italian Kitchen in Woodbridge.

Do you know the difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack? Cardiac arrest is an “electrical” issue when the heart malfunctions and stops beating unexpectedly caused by an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked because a blocked artery prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching the heart.

And, if you think that heart disease is for older people, think again. Leslieanne Grendysz, NP, a nurse practitioner with Sentara Heart & Vascular Center, said that it’s not just older patients they see at the hospital. “We’ve had patients as young as their 20s and 30s come in to see us who present with symptoms of cardiac arrest and heart attacks.” Grendysz also reminded the all-female audience that women are less likely than me to receive aggressive diagnosis and treatment for cardiovascular disease.

“Women are less likely to seek heart treatments and get the correct diagnosis. While we cannot control our age, gender, family history or previous heart or stroke event, we can improve our blood pressure, decease tobacco use, sedentary lifestyle, obesity and diabetes. To lose weight, 80 percent of the effort is from food intake and 20 percent is from activity. Smokers who quit for two years lower their heart disease risk to that of a non-smoker,” she said. Heart attack symptoms in women differ from those in men. Jaw pain, feeling like an elephant is sitting on your chest, shortness of breath during mundane activities like making a bed, dizziness, fainting or extreme fatigue might be indicators of a heart issue Grendysz said.

“Don’t ignore your symptoms. If you are not getting the answers you need from your doctor, seek a second opinion. And, if you truly believe that you are experiencing a heart attack, cardiac arrest or stroke, call or have someone call 911. Do not drive yourself to the hospital. The life-saving equipment and drugs on an ambulance might just save your life,” Grendysz said.

Designed by the AHA, “Life’s Simple Seven” are seven simple steps to living better and can help improve your health.

  1. Get active
  2. Control cholesterol
  3. Eat better
  4. Manage blood pressure
  5. Lose weight
  6. Reduce blood sugar
  7. Stop smoking

Details to start your new life resolution can be found at

Kathie Johnson, RN, PhD, president, Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center told the audience that their hospital has an online tool to assess your risk of heart disease and provides life-saving interventions 24 hours a day, diagnostic testing and treatment which includes an exclusive pocket EKG (echocardiogram) screening program and rehabilitation programs. The online assessment tool can be found at

The AHA recommends that women visit their primary care doctor for a Well-Woman Visit. Your checklist at this visit may include:

  1. Measuring your height and weight and then calculating your body mass index (BMI)
  2. Checking your blood pressure
  3. Taking your temperature
  4. Head and neck exam
  5. Abdominal exam
  6. Dermatological exam
  7. Pap test and HPV test for cervical cancer
  8. Laboratory tests may include a chemistry panel, complete blood count, Cardiovascular Risk Calculation using the AHA CV Risk Calculator and Assessing colorectal cancer screening status. Regarding the chemistry panel and heart health, the most important numbers are blood glucose and cholesterol levels.

More information can be found at The event also included keynote speaker Debra Wells, a heart and stroke survivor and American Heart Association Ambassador.


Kim Howard, CAE ( is the editor in chief of Prince William Living and the child of two parents who had preventable heart disease. After her mother died 15 years ago from congestive heart failure caused by decades of high blood pressure, she decided an annual physical with her doctor, along with weight loss and an active lifestyle, was a smart way to know her numbers and stop any heart disease early.







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