Group looks at how female veterans may be more at risk for heart disease

Better Health & Wellness

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – In honor of Veterans Day, it has a few groups working to bring awareness to heart health, specifically in female veterans. 

The American Heart Association and the Veterans Healthcare Administration are taking a special look at how certain unique life challenges female veterans face can impact their health.

Doctor Sally Haskell, women’s health director, said health care is seeing more veterans that are female. 

“We are seeing a very rapid growth in the women veteran population, so we’re seeing over 800,000 women veterans now enrolled for VA health care,” said Haskell. “They’re our fastest growing population, and since heart disease is the number one cause of death in women overall, it’s really critical that we understand risk factors for cardiovascular disease in women veterans so that we can provide the best prevention and treatment for them going forward.”

Haskell said heart disease is the number one cause of death in women, and she said female vets tend to be at an even higher risk. Again, it is because of the added stress that can come from the military. 

Typical risks for heart disease can come from high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. 

In women vets, there are higher rates of women with mental health conditions like PTSD and depression.

She said these factors are added with the traditional risk factors for heart disease. It can actually increase the risk of heart disease. 

“We’re really just beginning to learn about this, so we don’t know the answers for sure, but we do know that PTSD can actually have caused physiologic changes in the brain and the body,” she said. “We can see increased rates of stress hormones, we can sometimes see inflammatory changes, and these things might increase the risk for heart disease.”

She said the groups are working to study more about this to understand the risks. 

“Those are some of the unique factors that women in their health care providers need to be aware of,” said Haskell. 

For now, she suggests talking with your doctors. You can find more information at heart.org.

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