Know Your Heart Health Risks
By Larry Lucas, Deputy Vice President
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America
In many ways, the day was like any other. Ben, who always ate
a healthy diet and knew the importance of regular exercise, headed
out for his usual morning jog. Sadly, when he returned home, my
dear friend Ben Ruffin collapsed and died of a massive heart attack.
He was just 64 years old.
Unfortunately, Ben’s story isn’t unique. We hear
grim tales just like his every day in the news and through our
friends and our families. Cardiovascular disease, which includes
heart attack and stroke, is the leading cause of death for African-American
men and women. According to the American Heart Association (AHA),
each year it takes more than 100,000 people from their loved ones
and families far too soon. More than 40 percent of all African-Americans
have high blood pressure (hypertension), one of the most critical
indicators of cardiovascular health.
When you think of someone having a heart attack, you might think
of someone like Ben – a middle-aged man. The truth is cardiovascular
health isn’t just a “man’s issue.” Seventy
million Americans have heart disease, which is the leading cause
of death in the US. But did you know that over half of those --
54 percent -- are women? Surprised? You’re not alone. Many
women believe that cancer is more of a threat to their well-being,
but they're wrong. The AHA reports that nearly twice as many women
in the United States die of heart disease and stroke as from all
forms of cancer, including breast cancer.
Much of the burden of heart disease and stroke could be eliminated
by reducing its major risk factors, according to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Those risk factors include
high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, smoking, diabetes,
lack of exercise and poor nutrition. You’ve heard it before,
but I’m going to say it again – lifestyle choices,
like what you eat and how much you exercise, play such a critical
role in preventing all kinds of potentially devastating diseases,
not the least of which is heart disease. Even the ways you respond
to stress may play a role in your cardiovascular health because
unhealthy responses to stress may lead to other risk behaviors
like smoking and overeating.
My friend Ben was 64 when he had his fatal heart attack –
a little younger than the average age of 66, according to the
CDC. But it’s not just those with gray hair that need to
know how to keep their hearts healthy. In a recent survey published
by the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers were surprised
to find that most young adults did not know the major risk factors
for heart disease. Many bad habits that are risk factors for developing
heart disease later in life, like diet and exercise patterns and
tobacco use, begin when we’re young. It takes years, and
in some cases decades, for those bad habits to catch up with us.
Young people need to know their future heart health is shaped
by the choices they make today.
But, there are things that contribute to your risk for developing
heart disease that you can’t control – like age and
family history. In addition to lifestyle changes, your doctor
may choose to prescribe prescription medicines. The good news
is there are 146 new medicines in the pipeline that can treat
or prevent dangerous cardiovascular conditions and stroke. Available
heart disease and stroke treatments have helped reduce the death
rate from these conditions by half over the last 30 years. The
difference these treatments are making is astounding. According
to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), as many
as 815,000 more Americans would die from heart disease and 250,000
more would die from stroke every year without these medicines.
Patients who need help accessing their prescription medicines
can turn to the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, a national
clearinghouse of patient assistance programs sponsored by America’s
pharmaceutical companies. Since April of last year, the Partnership
for Prescription Assistance has helped connect more than 3 million
patients in need to programs that provide either free or nearly
free medicines. For more information, patients can call 1-888-4PPA-NOW
or visit www.pparx.org.
Awareness is the first step in combating heart attacks and stroke,
and its precursors such as hypertension. Visit your physician
regularly so they can catch any irregularities early. Like with
my dear friend Ben – just because you look great on the
outside, doesn’t mean your insides are keeping up. Eat right,
exercise regularly, and if your doctor prescribes you a course
of medicines make sure to take them exactly as prescribed. It’s
important – skipping doses or forgetting refills can have
a serious impact on the effectiveness of your medicine. We must
remain vigilant because no matter what our age, sex or race, heart
disease affects us all.