PUBLISHED: 12:13 PM on Wednesday, February 8, 2006
'Go Red' kicks off heart health awareness

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Gov. Frank Murkowski reads his proclamation of "Go Red for Women" day as First Lady of Alaska Nancy Murkowski looks on.
Being heart healthy has long been an issue, but women need to take note.

"Go Red for Women" launched Wednesday, Feb. 1 by the American Heart Association to raise women's awareness of heart related health issues during the month.

"One in four women will die of a stroke. That's a pretty profound number," said Nancy Murkowski, wife of Gov. Frank Murkowski, during the campaign kick off Wednesday at the State Office Building in Juneau. "Only 13 percent of women nationwide consider cardiovascular disease their greatest health risk. We wear red today to increase our own individual awareness of heart disease, and as a sign that we, as women, can take charge of our heart health."

Commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services, Karleen Jackson, said that in recent years the death rate of men due to heart problems has declined while it has stayed the same for women.

In the Know

How to assess a stroke

Sometimes symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify. A stroke victim may suffer brain damage when people nearby fail to recognize the symptoms of a stroke. Now doctors say a bystander can recognize a stroke.

• Ask the person to smile.

• Ask the person to raise both arms.

• Ask the person to speak a simple sentence coherently.

If the individual has trouble with any of these tasks, call 911 and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.

"We can save lives and we can reduce suffering," Jackson said. "Heart attack signs are more subtle for women than men. We need to raise awareness that this is a problem for women too."

Richard Mandsager, director of public health for Alaska, said being aware of numbers such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels can intimidate people.

"When I was in medical school, I checked my blood pressure and I didn't like the results, so I thought I had done it wrong," Mandsager said. "I didn't check it again for 20 years."

Genetics are a contributing factor to heart related health issues and knowing blood pressure and cholesterol numbers is key to prevention, Mandager said.

"We all have women that we love. They're aware of breast cancer and cervical cancer, but a lot of women don't know heart disease is a problem," he said. "This is not just a men's disease. We have to work to do more awareness on the women's side."

According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, about 700 Alaskans die of cardiovascular disease each year. Also, Alaska Native people have a similar age adjusted death rate from heart disease and higher age-adjusted death rate for stroke than non-Natives.

"The No. 1 killer in our state continues to be cardiovascular disease, yet most of our residents aren't aware of their risk or do not realize there are simple steps they c an take to help prevent and manage this disease," said Suzanne Meunier, Alaska advocacy director for the American Heart Association.