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Heart disease in women
often overlooked    
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[FEB. 12, 2004]  In a five-county central Illinois area including Logan County, nearly nine out of 10 women have two or more risk factors for heart disease, yet barely a third believe they are personally at risk for heart disease.

That finding illustrates just one reason that Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital is partnering with Memorial Health System's two other hospitals, Memorial Medical Center in Springfield and St. Vincent Memorial Hospital in Taylorville, in a national program designed to educate women about the prevalence of heart disease. The Women's HeartAdvantage program is being launched this month.

"Women's heart disease is perhaps the most overlooked and misunderstood health risk in America, killing more women and devastating more families than the next eight causes of death combined," said Dr. Paul Kasa, president of the medical staff at ALMH.

The goal of the Women's HeartAdvantage program is "to reduce the number of women who die from heart disease in the communities we serve," Kasa said. "We plan to do this through education, risk identification and early intervention."

Women who want to learn more about the risk factors can call (877) 217-7883 toll-free and request a free comprehensive information kit with a step-by-step guide to determine their risk of heart disease and how to develop a healthy lifestyle. Kits can also be requested through Memorial Health System's site at

Helping women recognize the need to discuss their risk factors with physicians is an important step because many women don't believe that heart disease is an issue for them. "The general perception is that men, not women, die of heart attacks," said Dr. Melissa Hardiek, an internist with Lincoln Health Care Specialists.

However, every year since 1984 more women than men have died of heart disease. Some 9 million American women of all ages suffer from heart disease. About 500,000 women suffer heart attacks each year, and that same number die from cardiovascular disease annually, according to the American Heart Association. Further, 42 percent of all women who have heart attacks died within a year, compared with 21 percent of men.

Most female heart attack patients have symptoms for hours, days, even weeks before their heart attacks. They fail to recognize the symptoms as serious, Hardiek said.

The kit provides women with information on how to recognize the signs of a heart attack, which can be different than men's symptoms, and includes details on how to identify their risk factors and what steps they can take to lower their risk.


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"The number of women who die from heart disease will continue to rise unless we take action," Hardiek said. "Through Women's HeartAdvantage, our call to action is one of raising women's awareness and assertiveness about the problem of heart disease."

Women should know and recognize symptoms of a heart attack. While there are classic symptoms, women can experience other symptoms, including nausea, shortness of breath and fatigue. They should be assertive in creating a dialogue with their physicians about how to deal with their risk factors.

Before launching Women's HeartAdvantage, Memorial Health System commissioned Market Strategies Inc. to interview 300 women from Logan, Sangamon, Christian, Menard and Morgan counties. All were from 40 to 70 years old. The research revealed a real disconnect for women and heart disease.

The findings included the following:

--Nearly three out of four women (72 percent) in central Illinois would prefer to talk to their doctors about their risk for heart disease, but less than a third (29 percent) have actually talked to their doctors. Only one in five (20 percent) have expressed concern to their doctors about their own heart health.

--Of those surveyed, 42 percent perceived breast cancer to be the leading cause of death among women; only 30 percent believed cardiovascular disease was the No. 1 cause. In reality, breast cancer accounts for 4 percent of all female deaths across the nation; heart disease accounts for 50 percent of all female deaths.

"Every year, heart disease claims the lives of tens of thousands of mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers and other loved ones," Kasa said. "The good news is that we can reduce that number by reducing cardiac risk factors and educating women now. We want the women of the communities we serve to take charge of their health. Nothing could be more important than being armed with the knowledge to confront heart disease."

ALMH and Memorial Health System are participating in Women's HeartAdvantage through their membership in VHA Inc., a nationwide alliance of 2,200 community hospitals. VHA launched Women's HeartAdvantage as a test program at Yale-New Haven Hospital in March 2001. This year, Memorial Health System joins more than 80 hospitals nationwide in this initiative.

[ALMH news release]


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