Thursday, March 18, 2004

Women's heart risk higher

But treatment often lags that of men

By Peggy O'Farrell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dr. Marilyn Gaston, with Florence Henderson in back, during the Speaking of Women's Health conference in Covington.
The Enquirer/TONY JONES
COVINGTON - Women still aren't getting the message that heart disease is the biggest health threat they face, according to a study released Wednesday at the Speaking of Women's Health conference.

The study found that more than half of 9,000 women screened for heart disease had at least three risk factors; two-thirds had at least one risk factor they hadn't known about.

After being told of their screening results, 52 percent of the women said they'd see their doctors.

"We need to educate women about their risk factors for heart disease," said Dr. Marilyn Gaston, a Cincinnati native and former assistant U.S. Surgeon General. "We need to educate the whole nation about risk factors, but especially women."

The data were released as the conference kicked off its ninth annual tour at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center. More than 5,000 women will attend the local conference, which ends Sunday.

Data were based on screenings of more than 9,000 women at Speaking of Women's Health conferences nationwide.

Heart disease in women is the hot topic in public health these days. The federal government recently launched its "The Heart Truth" campaign, and the American Heart Association has launched its "Go Red for Women" campaign, featuring the "Red Dress" symbol.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, but more women die of it than men, according to national statistics.

It's important for women to know their risks and symptoms "and to act upon that knowledge," said Dr. John Wilson, a cardiologist with Cardiology Associates of Cincinnati. "Women are probably better than men about that part."

Women are more likely to have many of the risk factors for heart disease - obesity, inactivity and diabetes, especially - and don't usually have the classic chest and arm pain associated with heart attacks.

Women are also treated less aggressively than men when they show up at hospitals with heart attack symptoms, according to a study released earlier this month by Dr. Andrea Blomkalns of the University of Cincinnati.

The study found that women were less likely than men to get recommended medications and procedures, such as clot-busting drugs or diagnostic catheterizations.

Women need to be more assertive about asking their doctors about their risk of heart disease, Gaston said. And doctors need more awareness of risk factors and symptoms of heart disease in women, she said.

Several women lined up Wednesday morning at the conference for free heart screenings offered by Guidant Corp.

Sisters Colleen Smith and Mary Ann Sheridan were among those waiting to get their cholesterol, blood pressure and body mass index checked.

Smith, who lives in Cold Spring, got mixed results. "My blood pressure's up and I'm fat," she said. "But my cholesterol's good."

She's due for a physical soon and will talk to her doctor about the results.

Sheridan, who lives in Columbia Township, also got good and bad news. "My cholesterol's up, but I had breakfast. And my blood pressure was better than it had been," she said.


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