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February marks American Heart Month, a nationwide initiative to raise awareness in the effort to combat heart disease and educate communities on prevention and treatment options. Heart-related illness is still the leading cause of death in the United States, with one in every three deaths resulting from heart disease or stroke.

Often associated with men, heart disease kills more women each year and is more deadly than all forms of cancer. Over 400,000 deaths among American women are caused by cardiovascular disease and approximately 42.9 million women currently live with some form of the disease. Of that, 6.6 million women in the United States are impacted by coronary heart disease, the number one killer of both men and women. Unfortunately, according to a 2012 report from the American Heart Association, sixty-four percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms.

As Members of Congress, and as women, it is imperative that we raise awareness of the threat heart disease and stroke pose to women. In addition to the tremendous toll heart disease-related deaths have on American families, the estimated annual cost of heart disease to our health care system is over $200 billion. Despite the fact that heart-related illness is largely preventable, studies show that the trend is increasing with the estimated cost to our health care system at over $800 billion by 2030.

It is our goal to improve women’s overall health and build a consensus in Congress on steps to combat heart disease, particularly for underrepresented populations. In addition to raising awareness, a commitment to research that furthers our understanding of health disparities is critical to prevent and treat heart disease. African American women make up 25 percent of heart disease-related death in the United States. Hispanic women suffer similar death rates yet only one in three are aware of this risk. For Asian women, heart disease remains the leading cause of death behind cancer. Further, regional disparities also create challenges to the prevention and treatment for heart disease. In rural communities, heart disease was ranked second only to access of care as a top rural health concern.

We must focus on minimizing these health risks by promoting healthier lifestyles and taking preventative measures. Education, lifestyle, and socioeconomic status have each been listed as factors for the prevalence of heart disease and should be studied closely to better understand their impact on health.

Heart disease requires collective action. American Heart Month gives voice to the fight against heart disease, but it is important that we turn those voices into action to push this issue forward and combat this deadly disease. It is time to  reverse this trend once and for all.

Representatives Donna F. Edwards (D-MD), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Doris Matsui (D-CA), and Kristi Noem (R-SD) are the Co-Chairs and Vice Chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues.

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