It’s no secret that cardiovascular disease is the #1 killer of women in the U.S. That’s why it’s more important than ever to get smart about the factors that contribute to heart disease and to take the necessary steps with your healthcare provider to determine your personal risk. With greater awareness and knowledge of your own heart disease risk, you can make a tremendous difference in your future health.

Once you know what your personal risk level is, there are many different steps you can take either to maintain your risk if it’s low, or reduce your risk if it’s high. A few examples include:

Quit smoking. Your risk of heart disease declines within months of smoking cessation, and falls to that of a nonsmoker within five years.

Make lifestyle modifications. A healthy weight is crucial, and losing weight and keeping it off is the key. Watch your diet closely, and try to get at least 30 minutes of any type of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week. Candidly discuss your exercise regimen – including the challenges you may experience in sustaining it – with your healthcare provider to be sure your type and amount of physical activity are adequate. If you’re not getting enough exercise, consider how to increase your activity level as a critical step in your risk-reduction or risk-management regimen. Also, try to reduce the amount of stress in your life. Often easier said than done, this is an essential aspect of your personal risk-control plan. Stress-reduction strategies can include yoga, meditation and breathing exercises.

Consider medication. Depending on your individual profile, your doctor may recommend cholesterol and blood-pressure-lowering medications and/or low-dose aspirin therapy to prevent heart attacks if you’re at moderate to high risk (red to crimson shades). Aspirin has a track record of more than 100 years of proven safety and effectiveness for treating a variety of ailments. Of course, please remember that aspirin is not appropriate for everyone, so be sure to talk to your doctor before you begin an aspirin regimen.

Control your diabetes. Did you know that diabetes is considered a “heart disease equivalent”? That’s because people with diabetes have nearly the same risk of having a heart attack as someone who’s already had one. Effective control of your blood sugar levels can make a big impact on risk reduction.

If you are a woman — especially if you’re a woman over age 50 — you need to be aware of your risk of heart disease and of suffering an event like a heart attack or stroke. But how do you recognize or quantify your risk? And what can you do to maintain your risk level if it’s low, or to reduce it if it’s high? And what does being “at risk” mean? I know these are questions many women struggle with as they think about their cardiovascular heath.

In an effort to help women understand and not ignore their risk, Bayer Aspirin has developed a national public education campaign called Shades of Red. The campaign is designed to encourage women to work with their healthcare providers to assess and understand their personal risk, or “shade of red,” and take the necessary steps to stay healthy.

Noel Bairey Merz, MD Medical Director and Endowed Chair Women's Health and Preventive Cardiac Center, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

Additional Information:

About Shades of Red —
Today, when the media and medical communities talk about a woman’s risk of heart disease, it is typically separated into three categories: low, moderate and high. You can think of these categories as a color spectrum. Every single woman — from the healthiest woman to the woman who’s already suffered a heart attack — fits into this spectrum; they just vary in shade.

As part of Bayer’s campaign, there is a consumer-friendly “Shades of Red” educational brochure that profiles real women, each with very real — and very different — levels of cardiovascular risk. The brochure also provides tips to help women manage and reduce their risk. Women are encouraged to use the brochure with their doctors to determine which risk category they fall into.

For more information on women and heart disease and to read real-life profiles of four women at varying shades of red, visit www.ShadesOfRed2005.com.