By Marissa Bergman and Annabelle Santos Volgman, MD
Heart disease long was thought to be solely a men’s health concern, but it’s the No. 1 killer of women as well. In fact, 2013 was the first year since 1984 that fewer women died of heart disease than men. This decline was the result of the tireless work of a small group of women who have dedicated their lives to eradicating the misunderstanding and unequal treatment of women’s heart disease. Since March is Women’s History Month, it’s an apt time to look back on their lifesaving work.
Heart disease first came to medical prominence in 1948 with the start of the long-term, ongoing Framingham Heart Study — which now is in its third generation of subjects residing in the Massachusetts town for which the study is named. It was reported in 1955 that age and sex were clearly risk factors for heart attacks; men suffered from heart attacks as early as their thirties and forties, while women seemingly were spared, because they had much less incidence and experienced heart attacks about ten years later than men.
By 1979, 30,000 more men were succumbing to heart disease than women, cementing the perception of heart disease as a men’s disease. As a result, medical attention was focused almost exclusively on men and their hearts — the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial started in 1974 only examined one sex.
By Thurston Hatcher
On a cool, sunny morning last October, as tens of thousands of runners raced east toward downtown, I was watching the Chicago Marathon from eight floors up, in a hospital room at Rush University Medical Center.
Instead of attempting what would have been my 11th 26.2-miler, I was being treated for atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat — or arrhythmia — that made it tough for me to run very fast, or very far.
I was diagnosed the previous spring, after weeks of struggling to run the 8:30-minute-per-mile pace that had become routine for me over the last 10 years. Even during relatively brief, three-mile outings, I had to stop every few minutes to catch my breath.
So I went to see my primary care doctor at Rush, who ordered the electrocardiogram that immediately revealed my arrhythmia. To be honest, I wasn’t all that surprised. I had suspected for several years, particularly after long marathon training runs, that my heartbeat was a little off. But even though I’m pretty health-conscious — maybe even borderline hypochondriac — I failed to appreciate that it could be something serious.
Lynne Braun, PhD, CNP
By Lynne Braun, PhD, CNP
May is American Stroke Month, and volunteers from the American Heart/American Stroke Association gathered at the state capital to recognize Sen. Heather Steans, Rep. Robyn Gabel, and former Rep. Bob Biggins for their work to improve outcomes for stroke patients over the last five years. Stroke is the nation’s No. 4 killer and the No. 1 cause of severe disability.
Five years ago, Sen. Steans and Rep. Biggins, a stroke survivor, championed the groundbreaking Illinois Primary Stroke Center law of 2009. Since that time, 39 hospitals have been designated as Primary Stroke Centers, and five hospitals have been designated as Emergent Stroke Ready Hospitals, with many more waiting approval. These specifically designated stroke hospitals offer higher levels of stroke care, with strict national and/or state certification processes. EMS providers are directed to take stroke patients directly to these designated stroke centers, bypassing hospitals less able to provide high quality stroke care.
Sen. Steans and Rep. Gabel took the next step by introducing House Bill 5742, legislation that will keep stroke care moving in Illinois. This crucial legislation will allow Illinois to take full advantage of advances in technology, techniques, and standards of stroke care which have been developed since 2009, including:
- Allowing the Illinois Department of Public Health to designate Comprehensive Stroke Centers, the highest level of stroke care available;
- Align Emergent Stroke Ready Hospitals with National Acute Stroke Ready standards;
- Facilitate the creation of an Illinois stroke data registry, a critical tool for continuing quality improvement.
In a press conference on May 22, as chair of the Illinois Advocacy Committee, I had the privilege of presenting Sen. Steans, Rep. Biggins and Rep. Gabel with Stroke Hero Awards. Shortly thereafter, I witnessed the almost unanimous approval of HB 5742 in the Senate. The bill now awaits the governor’s signature.
The Stroke Program at Rush has met the highest level certification standards by the American Stroke Association and the Joint Commission as a Comprehensive Stroke Center. Recently, Rush was awarded the Gold Plus Performance Achievement by the American Stroke Association.
Ciara McGrath was lying on the bed reading a book when the room went — as she puts it — “spinny crazy like you can’t even imagine.”
“I could barely walk. I was falling over,” she recalls.
After passing out and being resuscitated in an ER, she was referred to Rush University Medical Center, where she was diagnosed with a heart condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. First she underwent an ablation procedure, then electrophysiologist Richard Trohman, MD, implanted a cardiac device “to make sure I don’t have any episodes like that again.”
“I know that I’m safe now, and I’m more active than I’ve ever been in my entire life,” she says. “Dr. Trohman, the nurses, the entire staff here in the EP department, they’re like family. They took such good care of me, I can’t imagine not coming to see them at least once a year to have things checked out.”
By Annabelle Volgman, MD
In 1984, there were more women who died of cardiovascular disease than men. Cardiovascular disease has been the number one killer of American women, more than all cancers put together. Women were being treated differently than men, including hormone replacement therapy for high cholesterol instead of the more effective cholesterol-lowering medications called statins. This resulted in thousands more women dying from cardiovascular disease.
In 2001, the American Heart Association started a campaign to increase awareness about heart disease in women. This campaign was named the Go Red for Women campaign in 2003. Lynne Braun PhD, ANP, and I were involved with the inception of the awareness campaign, and we both continue to be involved with Go Red for Women.
In 2003, the Rush Heart Center for Women opened its doors to prevent and treat heart disease in women. In addition to our services, we also offered complimentary nutrition counseling, which we were able to offer through funding from grateful donors. We wanted to give comprehensive evaluation and compassionate care to prevent devastating cardiac events.
By Lynne T. Braun, PhD, CNP
Many people who own pets treat them like family members. Pets are thought to provide joy, comfort and stress relief, alleviate sadness, and give their owners unconditional love. Some hospitals, including Rush University Medical Center, allow family pets to visit their hospitalized owners if certain requirements are met.
Teams of specially trained “comfort dogs” visited and provided comfort to the survivors of the Oklahoma tornadoes, Boston marathon bombings and Sandy Hill school shootings. But what do we know about pets and the health of their owners? In particular, does pet ownership promote heart health?
The answer is probably yes. The American Heart Association recently published a scientific statement on pet ownership and risk for cardiovascular disease. This statement reviewed the results of research on pet ownership and high blood pressure, cholesterol, physical activity, obesity and even survival. Although some studies are conflicting, most show the following:
By Melissa Tracy, MD
Women tend to not only take on their own stress, but also that of their families. This compounds the potential health hazards that include both psychological and physical issues.
Women tend to use food to suppress the impact of stress, resulting in increased weight and decreased exercise. When our weight increases and we have decreased exercise tolerance, the health-related heart risk factors can develop or worsen: Our blood pressure increases, cholesterol increases and the risk of developing diabetes increases.
Obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes are the leading risk factors for developing heart and cerebral vascular disease, such as a heart attack and stroke. Women of all ages are at risk, even those who still have not undergone menopause. If a woman is postmenopausal, then her risk is greater.