ARLINGTON, Va. -- Women across the nation are seeing red this month -- to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease. According to the Center for Disease Control, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, killing 289,758 women in 2013--that's about 1 in every 4 female deaths.

U.S. Army Maj. Susan Hopper, Nurse Practitioner and Program Director for the Medical Retention Processing Program, Deputy Chief of Staff, Warrior Care and Transition says it's a statistic that continues to be a growing concern for military personnel.

"As the Army moves towards improving its operational fitness and readiness we need to be mindful of the total Soldier. Heart disease is the #1 cause of death in both men and women and stroke is #2," Hopper said. "As I process packets on the Army Reserve side, I have noticed an increase in requests for Soldiers to be placed in a Warrior Transition Unit because of sudden cardiac events during physical training as well as strokes. This is a major concern as the Army's focus is on readiness," she said.

According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly two-thirds of women who dies suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms. Even if you have no symptoms, you may still be at risk.

Hopper says early detection in the form of regular checkups are key to managing this disease.
"Hypertension or high blood pressure many times can go undetected. The undiagnosed high blood pressure causes a strain on the heart and vessels. A sudden increase in physical training can lead to an acute cardiac event," Hopper explained. "Soldiers need to ensure they are cleared by their physicians before starting or elevating their physical activity." Hopper also noted other ways to help lower the risk are by knowing your family's health risk factors and taking the proper steps with your healthcare provider to decrease those risks. Additionally, monitoring your blood pressure regularly and having your cholesterol level evaluated can help lower the risk.

Healthcare professionals encourage people to develop a healthy nutrition and exercise plan to help prevent heart disease.

"Years of research support recommendations in making changes to diet and lifestyle choices can offer considerable benefits to your cardiac health, and decrease one's risk level," Hopper said. "Making changes to your diet and aerobic activity level is as important as proper rest. Eliminating bad habits such as smoking, having an inactive lifestyle and consuming alcohol in excess will also help to decrease risk." The Army's Performance Triad (proper amounts of sleep, levels activity and proper nutrition) is an excellent way to begin to take the necessary steps to combat heart disease."

Hopper says the Army is moving towards a more holistic approach instead of chronic care management.

"Across the Army, and in our civilian counterparts, we see the focus moving towards prevention of chronic disease as well as their second and third order effects," Hopper said. "The Surgeon General of the Army, Lt. Gen. Nadja West, strongly supports the mitigation of risk for all Soldiers. The focus of these efforts is to prevent a disease before it is diagnosed and to better manage it once it is diagnosed… You've only got one heart and you have to take care of it."