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Heart Month Brings New Information About Women's Heart Health

Breaking News - February 2006 - Week 3

(Feb 15, 2006)

Healthcare in  the News

-- To most people, February means Valentine’s Day and tending to the romantic needs of the heart. But it is also American Heart Month, a time for tending to the heart's physical needs.

Picture of 2 women, standing on steps

The 2006 observance of American Heart Month features national educational programs about heart disease and women. In that vein, a new study providing important information about women and heart disease has been released.

Women and "Silent Heart Attacks"

More than four in 10 heart attacks go undiagnosed at the time they occur, according to a new study reported in the European Heart Journal.

And these so-called "silent heart attacks" more often go unnoticed in women - more than half of the attacks in women went unrecognized, compared with one-third in men, the researchers say.

"There is quite a proportion of myocardial infarctions [heart attacks] that is clinically unrecognized by the patient him or herself, but also by the medical system," says study co-author Eric Boersma, Ph.D., an associate professor of clinical cardiovascular epidemiology at Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

"We know from other research that unattended myocardial infarctions do have prognostic implications in the sense of lower life expectancy," Dr. Boersma adds.

The results relating to women were particularly troubling to some experts.

"Clearly heart attacks are being missed in women, and these are women who were in the health-care system," said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, chief of women's cardiac care at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, and author of The Women's Healthy Heart Program.

"Two-thirds of women with a heart attack never make it to a hospital, and these women did make it and the heart attacks were still missed. Obviously, this is a big disappointment," Dr. Goldberg states.

Previous studies have indicated that up to 44 percent of heart attacks are clinically unrecognized, but the data have been limited and contradictory.

For this study, the researchers analyzed more than 4,000 men and women over the age of 55 who were participating in the Rotterdam Study, a prospective population study being conducted in a suburb of Rotterdam.

Between 1990 and 1993, men and women with no evidence of having had a heart attack were enrolled in the study, underwent a baseline ECG and medical examination and at least one follow-up examination during 1994-95 and/or 1997-2000.

Forty-three percent of the total heart attacks went unrecognized, including one-third in men and more than one-half in women, the researchers found.

The gender discrepancy persisted as age increased from 55 to 80.

Although the study was conducted in the Netherlands, the researchers believe the results could be extrapolated to any developed country.

Detection May Lead to Prevention

A number of factors may explain why heart attacks go unnoticed: Atypical symptoms, different symptoms in women than in men, different symptoms in the elderly and people with diabetes are some of the contributing factors.

It is important to recognize these symptoms, because after one heart attack, the risk for additional cardiovascular complications is higher.

Those who have had one heart attack could likely benefit from preventive treatment, including aspirin, beta blockers, and statins, as well as lifestyle changes, the researchers say.

Regular ECG screenings could determine who has suffered a silent heart attack and who needs extra care, the authors state.

"If you want to diagnose these earlier, then you have to one way or another make those repeat ECGs," Dr. Boersma said.

"But before we can make such a statement, we need to do a formal cost-benefit analysis to see if it's beneficial to do this in a large population above the age of 55," he adds.

Always consult your physician for more information.


For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this Web site.


National Woman's Heart Day is Feb. 17

Each year, the Sister to Sister: Everyone Has a Heart Foundation sponsors National Woman's Heart Day®.

At Sister to Sister's request, the US government has proclaimed the third Friday of every February to be National Woman's Heart Day.

Because a woman's heart is different, Sister to Sister created an annual six-month promotional campaign that educates women about how to prevent heart disease and provides opportunities for women to get a free heart-health screening.

In 2005, tens of thousands of women participated in the interactive health fairs held in a dozen major US cities. Many women were screened and about half were found to be at risk for heart disease.

National Woman’s Heart Day health fairs are free events where women can obtain heart-health screenings, advice on reducing their personal risks for heart disease, and guidance on adopting heart-healthy lifestyles.

Heart-health checks measure a woman’s total and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose, and body mass index as well as provide an overall risk assessment. Results are given on-site and include medical
counseling.

Health fair attendees also may participate in fitness, beauty, and cooking demonstrations and receive giveaways.

Seminars are conducted by nationally known experts on nutrition, obesity, fitness, smoking cessation, and stress management - all key to heart disease prevention.

This year, National Woman's Heart Day health fairs will be conducted in 14 major US cities including Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Miami, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C.

Why get screened?

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the US, and yet there are many steps women can take to reduce their risk.

Women can get a regular heart-health screening, stop smoking, increase their physical activity, and adopt a healthy diet.

Risk factor management is important in the prevention of heart disease and heart attack.

Managing your risk for a heart attack begins with:

  • examining which of the risk factors apply to you, and then taking steps to eliminate or reduce them.
  • becoming aware of conditions like high blood pressure or abnormal cholesterol levels, which may be "silent killers."
  • modifying risk factors that are acquired (not inherited) through lifestyle changes.
  • consulting your physician to determine if you have risk factors that are genetic or inherited and cannot be changed, but can be managed medically and through lifestyle changes.

Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

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