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Women's HeartAdvantage

A heartfelt plea for women to pay attention to their hearts

Dr. Soteria Karahalios (left),
medical director of Non-
invasive Cardiovascular
Services, and Kathleen
Catania, assistant director of
Cardiology Services, at
Community Hospital's
Hartnell Professional Center.

In 2004, First Lady Laura Bush delivered the keynote address at the annual conference of the American College of Cardiology. Her message: Unaware of their risk of heart disease, women too often ignore symptoms of an impending heart attack and go untreated until it is too late.

In January 2006, Community Hospital commissioned a survey of Monterey-area women between the ages of 40 and 70. The survey was to see if local women recognized the importance of their own heart health risk. The results revealed a disturbing mismatch between the women’s actual and perceived risks. Half didn’t realize they were more likely to develop heart disease than breast cancer.  Worse, 83 percent were at risk of a first heart attack based on self-reported symptoms, while only 29 percent knew they were at risk.

“We realized that we sorely needed to educate women in our community about heart disease,” says Kathleen Catania, assistant director of Cardiology Services at Community Hospital.

Catania and Dr. Soteria Karahalios, medical director of Non-invasive Cardiovascular Services, along with a group of physicians and hospital staff, wasted no time getting the project moving. First, they found a ready source of educational materials designed to raise women’s awareness of heart disease. Then they fine-tuned the program to best educate women in Monterey County based on what they had learned in the study and from national studies and clinical guidelines.

Their efforts have now come to fruition. This February, Community Hospital launched the Women’s HeartAdvantage initiative. The program offers free educational materials and wallet cards listing the most common signs and symptoms of heart disease in women and a list of questions to ask your doctor. The materials are available in some areas of the hospital as well as in some doctors’ offices. Women can also call the Women’s HeartAdvantage hotline to request the materials and speak with a cardiac wellness nurse to learn more about their personal risk for heart disease. The number is 831-655-LIFE (5433). Once a woman understands her personal risk, the nurse can help her decide the best next step. Typically, most women will need to bring their risk assessment to their regular doctor who can then refer them to a specialist if and when that is needed. If a woman doesn’t have a doctor, the wellness nurse will help her find one.

Recent research shows that the entire experience of heart disease, from symptoms to recovery, can be very different for women and men. For example, the classic warning signs of heart attack in men are chest pain and shortness of breath. But women frequently experience an array of less-obvious symptoms, including unexplained fatigue, shortness of breath, pain in the jaw or upper body, discomfort or pressure between the shoulder blades, unexplained nausea or sweating, dizziness, or even a sense of impending doom.

Even when diagnosed and treated, women are more likely than men to suffer from complications.

With Women’s HeartAdvantage, Community Hospital is offering women the facts they need to gauge their own risk for heart disease.  In addition to information about common physical symptoms of heart attack, women can learn how to track their cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, blood glucose, and blood pressure — all major indicators of heart health.

“We want people to get to know their risk factors,” Catania says. “What are their cholesterol numbers? What is their family history? Do they have high blood pressure? With the risk assessment, we’re trying to educate women about the information that is important to their heart health and may save their lives.”

The program encourages women to ask their doctors about their risk for heart disease. The brochure suggests questions ranging from what are the risk factors to what tests may be prescribed if symptoms develop. “Women now have a tool to initiate a discussion with their doctor about their heart risk and heart health,” Catania says. If a woman has no regular doctor but is at risk, getting her to a doctor is important. The idea is to catch heart disease early, when bypass surgery and angioplasty can still be avoided. When the disease is caught early, women can make important lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise and can take advantage of non-invasive medical interventions such as medication therapies and regular heart monitoring to improve their longevity and quality of life.

Each year, more women die from heart disease than from all types of cancer combined. So do yourself a favor — call the Women’s HeartAdvantage hotline and speak up at your next doctor’s appointment to take steps toward a heart-healthy future.

To get your own Women’s HeartAdvantage wallet card and brochure, call 831-655-LIFE (5433) or visit www.chomp.org.