April 26, 2017

Heart disease is number one killer of women

Dr. Jean McSweeney, UAMS College of Nursing Associate Dean of Research and nationally-acclaimed researcher in women’s cardiovascular disease; Martha McCarty Wells of Dallas, trustee of the Madelyne M. and Edward C. McCarty Fund; and Brenda Scisson, Executive Director for Development of the College of Nursing.

Courtesy of El Dorado News-Times
By Janice McIntyre, City Editor, El Dorado News Times

EL DORADO — Numbers of cardiovascular disease cases were projected to reach 41.5 percent among Americans in 2030. “We already reached that mark in 2015,” said Dr. Jean McSweeney, associate dean of research at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science College of Nursing in Little Rock. One in 40 women die of breast cancer and one in three die of heart disease.

McSweeney was in El Dorado on Wednesday, to talk about the risks of heart attacks and strokes among women, symptoms of cardiovascular disease and what women can do to improve their heart health. Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the country.

“Heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined,” McSweeney said during a free lecture and luncheon made possible through the Madelyne M. and Edward C. McCarty Fund of the Union County Community Foundation and their daughter, Martha McCarty Wells of Dallas. Elise Drake, executive director of the UCCF, introduced Wells, who introduced McSweeney and Brenda Scisson, executive director for development at the UAMS College of Nursing. Wells attended the luncheon and a UCCF awards ceremony in El Dorado on Thursday.

Most heart attacks evolve over time and and 12 women will die today in Arkansas from heart disease and/or stroke. One woman dies every 80 second from cardiovascular disease in the United States, McSweeney said, noting that 32.1 percent of Arkansas female deaths are due to heart disease and/or stroke.

While cardiovascular disease affects an estimated 44 million women in the U.S., 80 percent of heart disease and stroke events may be prevented through lifestyle changes and education, she said. McSweeney is the only researcher from Arkansas ever appointed to the National Institute of Health Council of Councils and has received numerous awards throughout her lifetime.

McSweeney, a research pioneer in the field of women’s cardiovascular disease and a professor and associate dean, travels throughout the country to share her research with medical organizations and groups. Her research has received national and international coverage from television and radio stations, such as CNN, CBS Evening News and newspapers such as the New York Times and Chicago Tribune. She has published in numerous nursing and medical journals and published the first study that describes women’s symptoms of heart disease.

She was the first to discover that symptoms for women experiencing cardiovascular disease are different from males. Symptoms of heart disease in females include extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, sleep disturbances, anxiety, frequent indigestion, flushed feelings, weakness and any type of chest and left arm or shoulder discomfort, including tingling and numbness. These symptoms, which will worsen before a heart episode, stop after a heart attack, McSweeney said.

While heredity is a factor in heart disease, McSweeney told those at the lecture that other risk factors include cigarette and tobacco use, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, inactivity and obesity. The number of women with obesity and diabetes risk factors are rising at an alarming rate. “If we continue on this course” (increased numbers of diabetes and obesity) “we could bankrupt our health care system.” In 2013, 45 percent of the adult population in the U.S. suffered with diabetes and/or were obese or overweight.

In Union County, diabetes affects 9.9 percent of the population and 73.5 percent are obese or overweight, McSweeney said. In 1990, no states had obesity rates above 10 percent, but since 1999, diabetes and obesity have grown in “epidemic proportions,” she said.

Arkansans are more at risk for heart disease than any other state in the country, McSweeney said, explaining that over the past few years, heart issues related to cigarette smoking have increased by 700 percent and people who smoke or use tobacco products, develop heart disease 19 years earlier than non-smokers, on average.

She stressed the fact that children need to be more active, noting that physical education has been taken out of the classroom in many areas. Whereas, in the past children played active games outdoors, now many – due to consolidation of schools – may spend many hours sitting during classes and then riding on buses for hours a day en-route to the outer borders of a county.

Inactivity is more common in women, contributing to obesity and diabetes and 60 percent of adults report little or no leisure time for physical activity. Inactivity is quickly approaching smoking as the number one reason for cardiovascular disease, McSweeney said.

High blood pressure is known as the silent killer, McSweeney said, because many times there are no symptoms. In Union County, 36.2 percent of the residents have high blood pressure and 35.1 percent are diagnosed with high levels of cholesterol. She also stressed that sometimes people can’t afford their blood pressure medications and so they quit taking them – which could cause a stroke. “Know your blood pressure numbers – both the top and bottom,” she advised.

For her research to determine causes and what women can do to lessen their chances of developing cardiovascular disease, McSweeney told of several women she has interviewed. One, a 45-year-old mother, noticed shortness of breath, when running through the woods to search for a wounded deer. A short time later, she had a heart attack while driving with her children in the car. She was able to pull off the road and call for help. Another reported acute pain in her back, while another said her arms were weak and she experienced a subtle ache. Many women with heart issues report no acute chest discomfort.

McSweeney also advised that many of the symptoms of heart disease in women will be intermittent and another early warning sign is an increase in the number of migraine headaches a female may endure. Over 95 percent of the women who were diagnosed with cardiovascular disease reported extreme fatigue as their number one symptom.

“We must take control now – it’s never too late to protect your heart health. By modifying just one risk factor, we can get our hearts healthier,” she said. Research shows that 78 percent of adults can modify one risk factor and could reduce heart attacks by 63 percent. In 2011, over $320 billion was spent to treat cardiovascular issues, she said.

“We need to focus on prevention. A heart attack is preventable – no tobacco, be more active and choose good nutrition,” she said, encouraging women who experience symptoms of a heart problem to not call their family members or friends first, “call 9-1-1,” she said.