Cardiovascular disease and strokes claim the lives of nearly 400,000 women each year, making it the No. 1 cause of death for American women, according to a study done by the American Heart Association.

In honor of American Heart Month, Truman Veterans’ Hospital held its first Go Red for Women event Friday to raise awareness of cardiovascular disease.

“A lot of women are not aware how big a threat to their health that heart disease actually is,” said Rachel Littrell, a cardiologist at the veterans hospital.

Littrell began the event in the hospital’s Patient Education Center by addressing what women should know about heart disease and stroke.

There are factors that make an individual at risk for heart disease that cannot be changed, such as genetics, race and age. Wanting to focus on the factors women can change, Littrell talked about diet, physical activity and women “knowing their numbers.”

Jasmine Fowler, a cardiology nurse navigator at the veterans hospital, was at the event helping women learn their blood pressure, weight, body mass index and cholesterol levels.

“They say that one out of three women will die from a heart attack,” said Paulina Bolte, a veteran who attended the event. “And so I have two best friends, and it’s one of us. Is it me? Is it one of them? Can they help me? Can I help them? You know, that’s why I’m here, to learn about what I can do for myself to be better.”

Littrell stressed the importance of a healthy diet as one of the first steps a woman can take to lower her risk of heart disease.

To better understand the role diet can play in prevention, the event included a healthy cooking demonstration by Lindsey Koelling, who is a registered dietitian at the veterans’ hospital. Koelling taught the women in attendance how to make “meal prep meatballs,” a recipe low in saturated fats.

“These changes don’t have to be huge right off the bat — we can do step by step,” Koelling said. “Small step here, small step there. And those add up to giant steps that can really change your heart health and cardiovascular health.”

The symptoms of a heart attack differ between men and women, Littrell explained. Women can show signs of a heart attack through fatigue, upper back pain and flu-like symptoms. These symptoms are often misunderstood, even by some physicians, which can lead to delayed treatment and complications.

Caroline Abshier, a local veteran, spoke about her recent heart attack, and how she learned that it can affect women differently.

Abshier was diagnosed with stage four kidney cancer in 2015, and the chemotherapy that followed caused her a lot of pain.

In 2019, Abshier began having pain in one of her elbows. She wrote it off as nothing out of the ordinary. For about a week the pain continued, eventually spreading to both her elbows.

After a steroid prescription didn’t stop the pain and she stopped her chemotherapy, Abshier went to the emergency room. There she had an electrocardiogram, where the doctor told her she was having a major heart attack.

It was the last thing Abshier thought could happen, and she admitted that, even if she wasn’t on chemotherapy at the time, she still wouldn’t have thought the pain was a heart attack. Now, it is the first thing she thinks of when she experiences unusual pain.

To learn more about cardiovascular disease, and how it affects both men and women, visit the American Heart Association’s website.

  • Education reporter, Spring 2020 Studying Photojournalism Reach me at bavrpd@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

  • Galen Bacharier is an assistant city editor at the Missourian. He has reported on higher education, state government and breaking news. Reach him at galenbacharier@gmail.com or on Twitter @galenbacharier.

  • As senior editor of the Missourian, Fred Anklam manages general assignment reporters. He can be reached at anklamf@missouri.edu or in the newsroom at 573-882-5720.

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