HAMPTON ROADS, Va. – Dr. Alexandra Ward’s decision to become a cardiologist was driven largely by her father. He had open heart surgery nearly 20 years ago.
“My father was diagnosed with heart disease in his 50s,” said Ward. “I was in college. Then he had bypass surgery and had to have a defibrillator. It is one of the reasons that cardiology spoke to me just given the family history.”
Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in men and women, affecting all races and ethnicities.
Dr. Ward, who is a cardiologist at Riverside, said women in particular are at a higher risk of developing the disease.
“Cardiovascular complications of pregnancy; if they have hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, gestational diabetes, etc., all are independent risk factors for heart disease later in life,” she said. “One in 3 women will develop heart disease and 1 in 3 women will die from heart disease.”
In honor of American Heart Month, Riverside is raising awareness about the disease. The major health system has been hosting Facebook live events every Thursday on different illnesses affecting the cardiovascular system.
“The illness that we think of normally are heart attack, stroke, cardiomyopathies as well as any of the vascular issues that can arise,” Ward said. “Because it’s such a huge system, it does impact a lot of people.”
Health experts say during the COVID-19 pandemic, the death rate from heart attacks has risen dramatically because people are delaying or not seeking care and ignoring early warning signs.
Though heart disease is one of the country’s most deadly diseases, it could be prevented.
“The number one is if anyone’s smoking to stop smoking; that’s the biggest thing,” said Ward.
Sticking to a few healthy habits can reduce your risk by eating right, maintaining a healthy weight and staying active even during lockdown.
“Even a 30 minute walk a day really does make a big difference,” Ward said.
Managing stress, getting regular checkups, and controlling your cholesterol and blood pressure are other ways to live a healthy lifestyle and reduce your risk of heart disease.