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A message to women: Beware of heart disease
By M. P. Ravindra Nathan, MD, FACC

During the 53rd annual Scientific Sessions of American College of Cardiology (ACC) held earlier in the year in New Orleans, there was plenty to learn, like "Increasing incidence of Heart Disease in Women." And there were a few celebrities to watch, like the First Lady Laura Bush.

According to a Gallup poll taken last fall, having a heart attack is a major concern for only 55 percent of Americans, compared to 63 percent who worry about getting cancer. Yet the statistics show that heart disease is still the No. 1 killer for men and yes, for women too, a fact most women don‚t know.

In addition, only nine percent of women surveyed by the National Council on Aging are afraid of heart disease, although one out of every three women succumbs to it. Not breast or ovarian cancer comes even close to the devastation produced by heart disease.

The top story during the cardiology convention was Early detection, treatment and prevention of heart disease in women.‚ And the featured speaker for the plenary session on the second day was Laura Bush.

"With the many risks for heart disease, a woman‚s greatest risk is ignorance," Mrs. Bush said to an audience of several thousand doctors who jammed a lecture hall. "When physicians talk to their patients and when they pay attention to symptoms, lives will be saved. It is estimated that women make up to 70 percent of their family‚s health care decisions," Mrs. Bush said. "So reach out to your female patients and stress the important role they have in prevention. When women improve their own health, they can improve the health of their children and rest of the family, and therefore, the health of our country."

"Heart disease is no more a disease of men. It is a killer in women too," said Dr. Carl Pepine, president of ACC, during his plenary address. He advised his colleagues to reconsider their approach to treating coronary heart disease in women, about the atypical ways heart disease in women can present and what specific actions to be taken. "Because of a focus on men, this topic has received inadequate attention and the general assumption has been that what is true for men is also true for women," Dr. Pepine said.

The disease is steadily rising in Indian women too, especially after menopause. Many studies have shown that Indian men and women are genetically susceptible to early manifestations of coronary heart disease.

Most women do not know that heart disease kills eight times as many women as breast cancer ˆ more than half a million women a year! Which is why the ACC has joined hands with the NHLBI (National Heart Lung and Blood Institute) in The Heart Truth Campaign and the AHA (American Heart Association) in Go Red for Women and the Sister to Sister Foundation in observing National Women's Heart Day, in spreading the message. The Red Dress has become the centerpiece of The Heart Truth Campaign, a visual reminder to women to focus on their own self. Small red dress pins‚ to wear on our coats were distributed and many female participants wore red dress and males wore red neckties to mark their support for these programs.

Hopefully, these efforts will raise awareness of the need for early diagnosis, treatment and prevention of heart disease in women, which often go undetected until it is late.

Cardiologist Dr. M. P. Ravindra Nathan lives in Brooksville.

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