Sister to Sister's heart health fair

One in four women in the United States dies of heart disease each year - more than all types of cancer combined, including breast cancer. However, studies show that only a third of American women consider themselves at risk for heart disease.

To increase awareness about the risks of heart disease in women, the Baltimore chapter of the Sister to Sister Foundation is holding its fifth annual Women's Heart Health Fair tomorrow at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Founded in 2000, Sister to Sister is a national nonprofit organization committed to educating women about healthy lifestyle changes that can reduce their risk of heart disease. Baltimore is one of 13 cities across the country that runs a Sister to Sister campaign.

During the health fair, attendees will have access to medical, nutrition and stress-reduction tips and cooking and fitness demonstrations provided by more than 70 vendors. The University of Maryland School of Nursing and Mercy Medical Center will provide free cardiac screenings followed by on-site counseling sessions with on-the-spot results and a personalized action plan. The 15-minute screening checks several risk factors related to heart disease, including blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), cholesterol, glucose, triglycerides, waist circumference and family health history.

"This is the largest event that provides free cardiac screenings, demonstrations, medical experts and service providers all in one place for a complete, pro-active experience," said Allison Buchalter, campaign director for Sister to Sister Baltimore.

Last year's fair attracted 3,000 women, a turnout that Buchalter attributed to support from the business community and local government. Sister to Sister is hoping for a turnout tomorrow like last year's, but it bases its success on helping to change unhealthy behaviors, providing prevention information and increasing awareness. "If we only help or save one woman, that's a success," Buchalter said.

Dr. Mandeep Mehra, head of cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center, which helps sponsor the yearly fair, stressed the importance of cardiac screening for women.

"Heart disease typically appears about eight to 10 years later in women than it does in men, so men tend to be screened more often and earlier as a result," he said. "Traditional risk factors in men are similar in women and should be checked."

Mehra said he has treated 30-year-old women with severe coronary artery disease. "Obesity, lifestyle habits, tobacco use, high blood pressure and diabetes are the key risk markers," he said. "I try to tell female patients of mine that they ought to just know their numbers."

if you go

The Women's Heart Health Fair will be held 8 a.m.-4 p.m. tomorrow in Hall A at the Baltimore Convention Center, 1 W. Pratt St. Online pre-registration is available at sistertosister.org. Call 410-649-7000.

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