Dr. Icilma Fergus is a cardiologist at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, known as Dr. Icy. She and Debora Grandison share the importance of February American Heart Health Month and what you can do to keep your heart healthy.
HEART DISEASE IS THE NUMBER ONE KILLER OF WOMEN. WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN SOMEONE HAS CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE?
DR. ICY: No matter what you call it – heart disease, cardiovascular disease, or coronary heart disease – cardiovascular disease means there is a plaque buildup in the walls of your arteries.
When arteries narrow, it becomes more difficult for blood to flow and creates a risk for heart attack or stroke.
Irregular heartbeat or heart valve problems can also cause a heart disease diagnosis.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO LIVE WITH CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE?
DEBORA: I am actually living with several cardiovascular issues, including atrial fibrillation, or aFib, which basically means I have an irregular heart beat. I was just 27 when all of this started for me and ended up in intensive care because my heart rate tripled.
It took 20 years before I got an accurate diagnosis, and today, I have an insulin pump and a pacemaker to help me live with cardiovascular disease.
I’ve been able to take what I’m dealing with and turn into positive. I make sure to exercise daily and educate myself on the proper ways to eat.
WHAT CAUSES IT AND WHY DOES HEART DISEASE IMPACT WOMEN OF COLOR, AND BLACK WOMEN IN PARTICULAR, DISPROPORTIONATELY?
DR. ICY: Debora is not alone: about half of Black women have some form of cardiovascular disease.
Black women tend to have higher rates of being overweight and diabetes, which puts them at greater risk for high blood pressure and heart disease.
Among all women, Black women are less likely to engage in physical activity. Other risk factors include cholesterol management, smoking and being cognizant of a family history of heart disease for early action. These are among the prevalent risk factors for Black women and may result in heart disease and stroke but can be helped with appropriate lifestyle changes.
CAN IT BE PREVENTED?
DR. ICY: The good news is that yes, about 80 percent of cardiovascular diseases can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes. Some risk factors, like age, gender and family history are, unfortunately, out of our control, but others we can treat or manage, like physical activity and eating habits.
WHAT ABOUT CHOLESTEROL??
DR. ICY: The American Heart Association recommends you start getting your cholesterol checked at age 20, or earlier, if your family has a history of heart disease.
TELL US ABOUT THE AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION’S INITIATIVE “GO RED FOR WOMEN”:
DEBORA: The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women® movement is the trusted, passionate, relevant force for change to end heart disease and stroke in women all over the world. While nearly 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women, claiming the lives of 1 in 3 women.
For 15 years, Go Red for Women has provided a platform for women to come together, raise awareness, fund lifesaving research, advocate for change and improve the lives of all women everywhere. The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement is nationally sponsored by CVS Health, with additional support from national cause supporters. Connect with us on GoRedforWomen.org, Facebook, Twitter or by calling 1-888-MY-HEART (1- 888-694-3278).
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 1ST IS A SPECIAL DAY. WHAT ARE YOU ASKING PEOPLE TO DO AS AMERICAN HEART MONTH KICKS OFF?
DEBORA: Yes, indeed! Friday, February 1st is National Wear Red Day. We encourage everyone to WEAR RED for awareness. GIVE for the mothers, sisters and friends that you can’t bear to live without. SHARE #WearRedAndGive on social media.
THE AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION HAS ITS OWN SUPPORT GROUP MADE UP OF HEART DISEASE AND STROKE SURVIVORS. WHERE CAN THEY GET MORE INFORMATION?
DEBORA: We certainly do – we have an amazing community for support, sharing and inspiration to be active and fit, called #GoRedGetFit.
The Facebook group is made possible by our national supporter Macy’s and helps women stay on track with fitness and nutrition goals through quarterly challenges and educational tools.
Join the 20K women who are taking charge of their heart health. It’s easy to join. Just open Facebook and search #GoRedGetFit. Select the public group and click “Join.”
HOW CAN WOMEN GET THEIR HEART CHECKED?
DEBORA: Go Red for Women’s national sponsor CVS Health is offering heart health screenings at no cost every Thursday in February at MinuteClinics nationwide to help women better understand their risk for heart disease.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE SYMPTOMS OF HEART DISEASE?
DR. ICY: Symptoms can vary between men and women.
For example, women having a heart attack may experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain. Other symptoms women should look out for are dizziness, feeling lightheaded or fainting, pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen and extreme fatigue.
IS HEART DISEASE HEREDIATRY?
DR. ICY: Women with a family history of heart disease are at higher risk, but women should not get comfortable in thinking that there is no one else in their family with heart disease – given the novel risk factors and lifestyles, heart disease is still possible but there’s plenty one can do to dramatically reduce it like getting regular exercise and eating healthy.
Dr. Icilma V. Fergus, MD is Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of Cardiovascular Disparities at Mount Sinai Medical Center. Prior to that she served as Chief of the Division of Cardiology at Harlem Hospital Center. Her undergraduate and graduate education were at Barnard College, Columbia University and SUNY Downstate. She completed her residency and chief residency at Albert Einstein Medical Center.
Dr. Fergus is also Mrs. Rowe, wife to Robert Rowe and mother to three lovely children Orion, Arianne and RJ. She has been featured in several magazines newspapers and shows including Girl Friends Magazine, Heart and Soul, New York Daily News and “Being Black in America: CNN series Part 1”. You can find her on twitter @icilmafergusrow, Linkedin, instagram or Facebook and visit the website http://www.healthyheartseries.org
Debora Grandison is a 30-year survivor of both heart disease and diabetes and is living life to the fullest with an insulin pump and a pacemaker.
Grandison is very passionate about sharing her journey to educate and advocate others, to save lives and feels privileged to have been selected for the American Heart Associations’ Go Red for Women Nation “Real Women” class of 2019.
Debora serves as a volunteer speaker for the American Heart Association’s Volunteer Committee, The AHA Speaker’s Bureau and The AHA You’re The Cure Advocacy Team.
PHOTO: Jules Thomas/Courtesy