When Charise Oelger commented that women are extremely conscientious about their husbands and heart disease, her colleagues nodded their heads.
They also agreed it is crucial that women – especially those with risk factors – become as conscientious about themselves.
Oelger is a physician assistant at St. Rose Family Medicine & Urgent Care; her colleagues are Jean Pringle, M.D., whose practice is at St. Rose’s Great Bend Internists (GBI), and Jeanne Burmester, PA-C, also at GBI.
“Women make their husbands come in for a check-up but they don’t schedule one for themselves,” Oelger said. “But what they need to realize is that heart disease kills more women than men. It also kills more women than all cancers combined.
“Women are good about seeing their ob-gyns and getting cancer screenings,” she added. “Now we have to convince them their heart health also is important.”
To help raise awareness about the seriousness of this issue, the St. Rose health-care providers will observe Go Red for Women Day and Month in February. They will have handouts for those who want information, and join the nationwide drive to wear red on Feb. 7.
As part of this educational effort, Oelger outlined some of the risk factors for women. They include high good and bad cholesterol, diabetes, inactive lifestyle, smoking, high blood pressure and family history. A history of lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, pre-eclampsia and stress are other factors.
“To take one example,” Oelger said, “if you stop smoking, you cut your risk of heart disease in half in one year. And the risk continues to decline.”
Oelger also said a 30-minute daily walk is helpful. “Any kind of physical activity is good – moving around and burning calories,” she elaborated. “For every hour of activity, two hours are added to your life.”
Dr. Pringle noted that if a woman addresses these factors, she could decrease her risk of heart disease seven-fold.
“The statistics can be startling,” Dr. Pringle said. “This is why we want to raise awareness and encourage women to seek information and advice from their health-care providers.”
Dr. Pringle emphasized the value of an informative website – www.goredforwomen.org.
“This site has great information,” she said, noting the awareness efforts are sponsored by the American Heart Association. “Women can find all kinds of information, including suggestions for all the decades of their lives. For example, the things to watch for in your 30s, 50s and 70s will vary.”
Burmester noted that more women in all age groups die of heart disease than men.
“They have to be watchful at all stages of their lives,” Burmester said. “We want them to learn about heart-attack symptoms that usually don’t involve the chest pain we hear so much about.”
Women’s symptoms include severe fatigue, jaw pain, nausea and left-arm pain. In addition, Burmester said, women can suffer “severe back pressure that won’t go away; it can feel as if their bra is too tight.”
Dr. Pringle noted that women are more likely to have multiple small blockages, while men tend to have one big blockage.
“Women may think they are fine after a heart catheterization that doesn’t find an abnormality,” Dr. Pringle commented. “In many cases, an echocardiogram is a good diagnostic test for those with risk factors.
“In short, we want women to talk with their doctors,” she added. “Education and preventive measures are key to a healthy heart.