Women’s Heart Disease Program Identifies At-Risk Patients, Offers Early Detection and Treatment
It is fairly well understood that heart disease is the leading killer of women in the U.S. today. But despite growing awareness, women are still not getting the treatment they need. “Women are still presenting later than men,” says Liliana Cohen, MD, a cardiologist at Summit Medical Group. “They are less likely to come to a physician with symptoms or into the emergency room when they have an attack.”
The medical community also underestimates the disease in women, notes Dr. Cohen. When women do seek medical attention, they tend to be treated less aggressively in terms of cardiac interventions, surgical procedures, and medication. Early intervention is critical to both prevent future heart attacks and treat cardiac emergencies. To help identify women who are at risk, Summit Medical Group will offer a new Women’s Heart Disease Program, located in West Orange, beginning in February. Patients who are identified as having low to moderate risk factors for heart disease by a primary care physician or OB-GYN are encouraged to make an appointment.
“Summit Medical Group has a large group of cardiovascular specialists that provide the full spectrum of care for women at every stage of heart disease. This includes individuals who are at risk, those who need surgery, and patients who are recovering and want to prevent future attacks,” says Dr. Cohen. “This new program is a life-saving opportunity to identify at-risk women, intervene with medication, and make heart-healthy lifestyle changes that can halt the progression of the disease and prevent attacks from occurring later in life.” Part of the treatment barrier in women is that heart attacks look different than in men. While chest pain and pressure are the most common presentation across both genders, women also present with atypical symptoms, such as shortness of breath, light-headedness, indigestion, jaw pain, or fatigue.
“For some women, the symptoms are as simple as not quite feeling themselves for a few days,” explains Dr. Cohen. “I always tell women to take any potential sign seriously. You know what normal is for your body. If something feels unusual, come in and have it evaluated.” There is also a misconception that heart disease only affects women over age 55. While postmenopausal women are more susceptible because their bodies lose estrogen, every year more than 30,000 women under the age of 40 die from heart disease. “This can be a tough age group to get into the office,” explains Dr. Cohen. “Between work and motherhood, women in this phase of life are often very overscheduled. They tend to put their own health on the backburner because they are taking care of everyone else.”
Put your heart health first. Ask your doctor if you have risk factors that increase your chances of developing cardiovascular disease. Some predispositions like family history and age can’t be changed. But high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight or obese, or a diagnosis of preeclampsia or gestational diabetes during pregnancy can be managed. During a typical appointment, Dr. Cohen conducts a comprehensive screening that includes an extensive medical history and physical exam. She also performs several tests that assess how well the heart is functioning, such as cholesterol profiles and calcium scores. Exercise stress tests are also used to see how the heart responds to added workload. An echocardiogram is an ultrasound that takes pictures of the heart to identify any structural abnormalities.
Women who are identified as having high blood pressure and cholesterol are often treated with medication. “High blood pressure is called the silent killer because symptoms do not appear until it is too late. It will slowly damage the heart muscle and the arteries, which bring blood to the rest of the body, for years before it causes a heart attack,” she says. Lifestyle changes, including healthy eating and exercise, can also help you reduce high levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity per week and a heart-healthy diet that focuses on lean proteins like chicken and fish, and plenty of fruits and veggies. Dr. Cohen will work closely with an onsite endocrinologist to manage diabetes complications, as well as nutritionists, dieticians, and smoking cessation counselors. Community outreach events, including a supermarket trip and exercise class, are also planned.
For women who are recovering from a heart attack, Dr. Cohen recommends cardiac rehabilitation programs. The 12-week program teaches you how to strengthen your heart through exercise training, heart-healthy living, and stress reduction. “Cardiac rehab has been found to be as beneficial for the heart as taking an aspirin a day,” explains Dr. Cohen. “It gives patients the confidence they need to transition back into to a healthy lifestyle.”
For Cardiology requests including appointments, prescriptions, and test results, please call 973-404-9900.