Greatest Health Threat Largely Overlooked by Northern California Women
Sutter Health Launches Outreach Program to Educate, Treat Early
SACRAMENTO, Calif., Jan. 29, 2004—More than 80 percent of Northern California women aged 40 to 70 are potentially at risk for a first heart attack, according to a recent study by the not-for-profit Sutter Health network of physicians and hospitals. However, 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 to launch today the Women’s HeartAdvantage, 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.
“Our experts are collaborating to create one strong voice to educate women about heart health and encourage them to talk with their doctors,” said Russell Stanten, M.D., cardiac and thoracic surgeon at Sutter-affiliated Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley and Oakland. “An overwhelming number of women right in our backyard don’t realize they’re at risk for a heart attack. Heart disease isn’t just a man’s disease. It’s the number one killer of women.”
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. Fifty-nine percent of these women did not perceive themselves to be at risk. Only 8 percent reported no risk factors. Risk factors were defined as 20 or more pounds over ideal weight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, family history and estrogen deficiency.
Many women think breast cancer is their greatest health threat, yet more women die of heart disease than all forms of cancer combined. Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, accounts for 43.3 percent of all female deaths. Breast cancer accounts for 4 percent.
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.
“A great key to fighting chronic illness is to be active and vigilant about our own health care long before the signs of illness appear,” said Senator Deborah V. Ortiz, chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. “Public education is critical to reversing the trends that threaten our community’s health and vitality. I commend Sutter Health for launching Women’s HeartAdvantage and for focusing attention and resources on this critical issue.”
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 Diane Sobkowicz, M.D., cardiologist with Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento. “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.
Sutter Health is a family of not-for-profit hospitals and physician organizations that share resources and expertise to advance health care quality. Serving more than 100 communities in Northern California, Sutter Health is a regional leader in cardiac care as well as care of women and children, and is a pioneer in advanced patient safety technology.