Sutter Health Encourages Women to Value a Different Kind of Heart this Valentine’s Day
Study reveals that Northern California women largely overlook heart disease as their greatest health threat
SACRAMENTO, Calif., Feb. 12, 2004—Whether crafted from chocolate, velvet or construction paper, hearts are precious this time of year. But no heart is more important at Valentine's Day and all year long than the one beating inside us. This is the message the Sutter Health family of physicians and hospitals is delivering this Valentine's Day following its recent study which revealed that more than 80 percent of Northern California women aged 40 to 70 are potentially at risk for a first heart attack. Only 30 percent of these same women regarded themselves as at risk. With coronary risk factors like obesity, diabetes and hypertension on the rise, Sutter physicians and hospitals are working together on a multi-year outreach and educational program to help women in the north state understand their significant risk, identify warning signs and live heart-healthy lives.
"An overwhelming number of women right in our own backyard don’t realize they're at risk for a heart attack," said Russell Stanten, M.D., cardiac and thoracic surgeon at Sutter-affiliated Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley and Oakland. “These are the moms, sisters and daughters we love, so we couldn’t give them a better gift this Valentine’s Day than education and encouragement for them to talk with their doctors."
More women than men have died of heart disease every year since 1984. In Sutter Health's random survey of 2,200 Northern California women ages 40 to 70, 89 percent of participants self-reported at least one factor that puts them at risk for heart disease. The research also revealed the following:
- 54 percent of women are at least 20 pounds overweight
- 47 percent of women have a family history of heart attack
- 30 percent of women have high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol
- 15 percent of women smoke
The good news is that most risk factors for heart disease can be modified. All women are encouraged to live a heart-healthy life, which includes moderate exercise, stress reduction, quitting smoking, eating the right foods, and regular talks with a physician about family medical history and personal risk factors.
But Sutter physicians say recognizing the risk and modifying behavior is just one component in preventing female deaths from heart disease. Knowing the most common heart attack symptoms for women also is key.
While most men experience chest pain as a warning sign of heart attack, less than 30 percent of women will report chest pain. More common symptoms in women may include discomfort or pain between the shoulder blades, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, indigestion or gas-like pain, and unexplained weakness or fatigue.
Heart care experts across the Sutter network also are working to ensure that primary care and emergency room physicians have the same access to the latest information regarding heart disease in women.
Once thought of as a man’s disease, heart disease in women can look and act differently. National research indicates that because of these differences, women are less likely to be diagnosed and treated early.
"Our physicians and hospitals are working together to better understand the pathology of the disease in women - how does it present itself and what’s different from what we've learned about men," said Tania Nanevicz, M.D., cardiologist with Sutter-affiliated Mills-Peninsula Health Services in Burlingame. "With the right information, we're able to take specific steps to improve education and treatment for our female patients. We're helping provide doctors and nurses with tools that can help them better assess patients’ needs."
Sutter Health's Women’s HeartAdvantage program is part of a nationwide effort by the VHA Inc., a national alliance of 2,200 not-for-profit health care organizations. Specifically, it includes ongoing physician and nurse education; educational materials for women available in physicians' offices; outreach to women through health fairs, their employers and community lectures; focused information available in community publications; and outreach through public media.
As part of it's clinical initiative around the treatment of heart attack, Sutter also has established clinical protocols based on scientific evidence of the most effective treatments. To continually improve the care they provide, the organization's hospitals and physicians will collect data and monitor outcomes of both men and women treated in their facilities.