|Dr. Jay S. Meisner and Diagnostic Lab Supervisor Janet Hernandez observe as a woman undergoes a cardiac stress test.|
At the age of 24, Madhu was already suffering from a serious heart condition caused by the rheumatic fever she had as a child, said Dr. Farshid Radparvar, Chief of Cardiology at Queens Hospital Center, where Madhu is a patient. She was having trouble breathing and was very weak.
"I went into heart failure and was in the ICU at Queens Hospital on a respirator for six or seven days," said Madhu, who asked that her real name not be used. "The doctors brought me through that, but afterwards they said that because of my heart condition, I would have a problem with pregnancy."
Fortunately, when Madhu was stronger, the cardiology team decided to try performing a balloon procedure on the mitral valve of her heart. The procedure was successful and Madhu became healthy enough to have children. She gave birth to a healthy baby boy in 2003 and another in 2005. She still sees her doctors at Queens regularly for follow-up care.
While Madhu's heart disease was caused by her childhood illness, many other women are prime candidates for heart disease and don't know it. Their symptoms are different than what men report and they are referred for cardiac care less often by their doctors.
Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for women in the U.S., killing 450,000 women each year. One of nine women between the ages of 45 and 64 develops cardiovascular disease. After age 65, it goes up to one in three.
As part of the February Go Red for Women campaign, HHC hospitals are raising awareness about women's heart disease and stroke, and the services offered at all 11 public hospitals.
"Often women are treated for anxiety rather than for cardiac problems," said Dr. Radparvar. "Also, they are, on average, 10 years older than men when they are finally diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. At that age they may have additional health problems that make treatment more complicated."
Dr. Jay Meisner, Cardiology Chief at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, agrees that the symptoms vary for women and says that certain lifestyle factors also lead to increased heart disease risk for women.
"They are more likely to have symptoms such as neck or back pain, nausea, or shortness of breath as signs of cardiovascular disease. High sugar or salt intake is also associated with increased death from cardiac problems," said Dr. Meisner. "Obesity, dietary fat intake, sedentary lifestyle and high stress are all factors, and some of these can be modified."
Women are referred for preventive care if they have more than one of the risk factors for heart disease: diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history of the disease or being a smoker, said Dr. Radparvar. HHC hospitals provide full primary care services, exercise advice, smoking cessation support, diabetes education and nutrition education.
"Women tend to take care of everyone in their family except themselves," said Dr. Norma Keller, Chief of Cardiology at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. "They will take their children to see a pediatrician and will see the OB/GYN, but uncommonly see a primary care provider to assess their overall health or cardiovascular risk."
HHC hospitals provide the screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes that assess women for their risk of cardiac disease. Patients who test positive can use any of the programs available to support healthy lifestyle changes. All this leads to earlier diagnosis or -- more importantly -- the prevention of heart disease in women, the main goal of HHC cardiology specialists like Dr. Radparvar.
"An ounce of prevention is better than a ton of treatment," he said.
Updated 02/22/2013: HHC is fortunate that all the distinguished doctors quoted above remain as Chiefs of Cardiology at Queens, Jacobi and Bellevue hospitals.