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Veterans Health Administration

VA Fights to Prevent Heart Disease in Women Vets

Women in red 'VA goes red for women' shirts excercise/dance together

VA Employees and Women Veterans got their hearts beating during “VA Goes Red-Healthy Heart Day” in September.

One in 30 women die from breast cancer; 1 in 3 dies from cardiovascular disease.

“Women don’t realize their own risk,” says Dr. Sally Haskell, Deputy Chief Consultant for VA’s national Women’s Health Services office. “VA has made tremendous progress in screening, but that’s just one piece of our challenge.”

Because heart disease remains the leading cause of death in American women and in women Veterans, VA is raising patients’ awareness of the risks associated with heart disease and the importance of regular screenings for blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

A major new collaboration is underway between VA and the American Heart Association (AHA) to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease and cardiac risk among women Veterans. The American Heart Association’s “Go Red For Women” movement offers tremendous resources for women with cardiovascular disease or at risk for cardiac disease and stroke. The VA-AHA initiative enables both organizations to leverage outreach and education efforts.

The initiative launched in May at a media roundtable with VA and AHA women’s health and cardiovascular experts.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in American women.

In September, an inaugural Heart Health Fair at VA’s central office in Washington attracted VA women employees, many of whom are Veterans, as well as the public, to participate in cardio classes and healthy cooking demonstrations, and to sample the fresh produce at the adjacent Farmer’s Market, another collaborator.

“This event was just the beginning,” according to Dr. Patricia Hayes, Chief Consultant for VA’s National Women’s Health program. “VA understands women Veterans and has devised a campaign to let them know about their risk for heart health.”

Many parts of the campaign live online and are great options for women Veterans. AHA’s Heart Match program enables women who have experienced heart disease to create an online profile, indicate their military status, and connect with other women Veterans and service members who have had similar experiences.

Raising awareness of cardiovascular disease is crucial for VA to best serve its largest female population—women Veterans aged 45 to 64. These are critical years for heart health. Meanwhile, cardiovascular risk factors are prevalent among women Veteran patients overall, with nearly one-third of women Veterans under VA care having high cholesterol levels or high blood pressure.

VA recently issued two reports demonstrating reductions in gender disparities in care for hypertension and cholesterol management, among other measures. In addition, a VA cardiovascular workgroup is examining how to improve heart health in women Veterans.

“VA delivers comprehensive care for the whole woman,” Haskell says. “The heart is at the center of that.”