MARIETTA - For at least a couple of hours Tuesday, some area mothers, daughters, friends and employees put themselves - and their health - as a top priority.
About 200 women enjoyed lunch, chatted with friends and learned about cardiovascular disease during Marietta Memorial Hospital's Go Red for Women Heart Luncheon at the Marietta Shrine Club.
The annual event is meant to draw attention to the fact that heart disease is the most common cause of death in women, who often put caring for others ahead of taking care of themselves.
Photo by Ashley Rittenhouse
A group of women chats during Marietta Memorial Hospital’s Go Red for Women Heart Luncheon Tuesday at the Marietta Shrine Club. About 200 women attended the event, the purpose of which was to draw attention to the fact that heart disease is the most common cause of death in women.
"The whole purpose is to put at the top of the mind for women the importance of taking care of their heart," said Jennifer Offenberger, director of marketing and public relations for the Memorial Health System. "Heart disease has primarily been associated with men, but the truth is, women die of heart disease actually more often than men."
Statistics from the Women's Heart Foundation show that worldwide, heart disease accounts for a third of all deaths in women, with 8.6 million females dying from the disease each year. Still, only 55 percent of women realize heart disease is their number one killer, according to the foundation.
Marietta resident Cheryl West, 63, knows firsthand the impact heart disease can have on a woman. Her mother died from the disease and she was diagnosed herself about two years ago.
Don't smoke. Your chance of having a heart attack doubles if you smoke as few as one to four cigarettes a day.
Be more active. Fit more activity into your life by taking the stairs rather than the elevator, doing yard work and parking farther from your destination and walking.
Reduce stress. Your risk for heart disease increases if you're depressed or feel chronically stressed.
Lower your cholesterol. Having high cholesterol puts you at a high risk of developing coronary heart disease.
West, who attended the luncheon Tuesday, said she has been the office manager for Marietta Memorial Hospital's cardiology department for about seven years.
About two years ago, when she and others returned to the office after having lunch together, she couldn't make it up the stairs to the office because she was extremely short of breath.
The office's nurse practitioner knew something wasn't right and insisted that West get tests done.
"It was a 90 percent blockage," West said. "I had a stent put in and the blockage was opened up with the stent and I'm doing very well."
West said although her mother died from heart disease, it never dawned on her that she might have it. She also said she had been experiencing fatigue and shortness of breath for quite some time, but ignored the symptoms.
Janine Hiles, a clinical nurse manager in Marietta Memorial Hospital's Cardiac Catheterization Lab, said during Tuesday's luncheon it's all too common for women to ignore the symptoms of heart disease and heart attack.
"We women put everyone first and so we may be the last to ask for help. We push all of our symptoms to the side because we think of our family and what we need to do on a day to day basis," Hiles said. "Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and stroke is the third leading cause of death, but unless something interferes with our normal day to day activities, most of us don't go anywhere to seek any type of help; we just put it out of our minds."
Hiles pointed out that although there are some risk factors for heart disease that can't be controlled, such as increasing age, gender and family history, there are several risk factors that can be controlled. They include smoking, high cholesterol and blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and stress.
"After the age of 55, women are at an increased risk of hypertension, which is a major contributor to heart disease," she noted.
Dr. Shane Parmer, a vascular surgeon at Marietta Memorial Hospital, said the easiest thing a person can do to prevent heart disease is exercise.
"Walking as little as 30 minutes three to four times a week will significantly decrease your cholesterol, decrease your stress, your blood pressure and decrease your weight," he said.
Parmer added that while heart disease is common in women across the globe, it's also a significant problem locally.
"In the Mid-Ohio Valley, diabetes and obesity are rampant and those are really high risk factors for heart disease, so West Virginia and Ohio are areas of high concentrations of this problem," he said.
Parmer noted that vascular disease and heart disease are "interlinked" and if a person has vascular issues, they probably also have major heart problems that should be addressed.