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The Well Woman Visit is the first step in the fight against women’s number one killer, heart disease

Heart disease is the number one killer of women. An estimated 44 million women in the U.S. are affected by cardiovascular diseases, while 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease or stroke.

Today, in the U.S., about 285 fewer women die from heart disease and stroke each day. Cardiovascular disease death in women has decreased by more than 30 percent over the past 10 years. It still remains the number one killer of women, killing more women each year than all cancers combined. The numbers are startling and it paints the picture of how much work needs to be done.

The American Heart Association (AHA) is encouraging women to take the first step in heart disease prevention and detection by scheduling a Well Women Visit.

A Well Woman Visit is a scheduled preventative check-up to review a woman’s overall health. It is a separate visit from other appointments for specific sicknesses or injures. The visit can be scheduled with a primary care physician, nurse-practitioner or an Obstetrician Gynecologist (OB-GYN).

“A single Well Woman Visit can give a head-to-heart-to-toe view of a woman’s overall health,” said Dr. Amy Pollak, cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Jacksonville Campus. “Women should think of this visit as a one hour investment in their health and their future.”

A Well Woman Visit may be tailored to the patient’s age, family history, past health history and need for preventive screenings. Some services – such as checking blood pressure, height, weight and temperature – will be provided as needed, based on medical and family history. The exam will also screen for other health problems that are unique to women including mammograms for breast cancer, pap smears for cervical cancer, prenatal care, bone-mass measurements for osteoporosis; plus “gender-neutral” screenings and services such as colon cancer screening, obesity screening and counseling and shots to prevent flu, tetanus and pneumonia.

It may take more than one visit to get all of physician recommended screenings and services. For instance, if the healthcare provider recommends a mammogram or colonoscopy, those services will be scheduled for a later time.

But since heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, the Well-Woman Visit should have a special emphasis on detecting the early signs of heart disease. The AHA estimates that 80 percent of all cardiovascular disease may be preventable, and it’s always better to prevent it than treat it after it becomes life threatening. The patient can expect the Well Woman Visit to include tests such as cholesterol screening, body mass index, blood pressure and other evaluations specifically designed to help assess your heart health. It’s a great way to help lower risks of heart attack or stroke and gives the patient an added peace of mind.

The Well Woman Visit should be scheduled annually. Because the body is complex, if a patient goes several years between physical exams, they run the risk of a health problem going undetected and causing the body far more damage than if caught early. Annual physical exams also strengthen the relationship between patient and physician, helping the doctor be better informed on what’s going on with personal health and life.

Here are some questions for your doctor to remember in your Well Woman Visit:

“Will you please explain all these numbers to me?”

“What do you think about my current medication regimen?”

“Is (fill in the blank) something to be concerned about?”

“When will the lab results be in?”

“Are there any particular things we need to keep an eye on?”

“Is there anything in my family history I should watch out for?”

“Are there any additional tests, screenings, or counseling you’d recommend?”

“Are all my shots current?”

“Could you recommend a diet and exercise regimen?”

“Can we go ahead and schedule next year’s Well Woman Visit?”

About the American Heart Association

Founded in 1924, they are the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary health organization dedicated to building healthier lives, free of heart disease and stroke.  To help prevent, treat and defeat these diseases — America’s No. 1 and No. 5 killers — they fund cutting-edge research, conduct lifesaving public and professional educational programs, and advocate to protect public health.  To learn more or join AHA in helping all Americans, call 1-800-AHA-USA1 or visit heart.org.

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