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Jun 12, 2018

OB/GYNs are Critical to Helping Fight Heart Disease in Women

Experts ask obstetricians and gynecologists to help educate their patients about heart disease.

Having obstetricians and gynecologists spread awareness about heart disease is critical to improving women’s health, based on a presidential advisory published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

Released by the American Heart Association and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, this statement was a call to action for OB/GYNs to join in the fight against heart disease. Its purpose was to raise awareness about heart disease—the leading killer of women—and to encourage health care providers to help spread the message.

According to authors, only 45% of women currently identify heart disease as their leading cause of death, and fewer than half of primary care doctors consider heart disease a top concern in women, after breast health and weight.

Since many women use their obstetrician or gynecologist as their primary doctor, experts see this as an opportunity for raising awareness. By educating OB/GYNs about heart disease, providers can then share the message with their patients and even screen patients for risk factors like high blood pressure and inactivity.

These efforts are especially promising, according to experts, as many women who see their OB/GYNs are of childbearing age. That means they have plenty of time to address any risk factors they may have, well before they have any long-term impact on health.

Studies show that 90% of women had at least one risk factor for heart disease. The earlier patients can take steps to address these issues, the lower their risk will be.

Fortunately, addressing risk factors doesn’t have to be complicated, thanks to “Life’s Simple 7.” Developed by the American Heart Association, these seven factors include managing blood pressure, controlling cholesterol, reducing blood sugar, getting active, eating better, losing weight and not smoking. Together, these steps can greatly reduce risk for heart disease and promote better health.

Authors also encourage doctors to educate women about pregnancy and heart disease. Studies suggest that women who develop complications during pregnancy such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes face increased heart risks later in life. It’s important that women take steps to prevent these complications and keep a close eye on their health if they do develop any of these conditions.

Additionally, experts also encourage a partnership between cardiologists and OB/GYNs. With more coordinated care, women could be screened for cardiovascular health at their OB/GYN appointments and then referred to cardiologists when necessary. This joint effort would help ensure that women get the care they need and have an opportunity to prevent future heart events.

Together, experts believe these steps could have a meaningful impact in fighting heart disease and improving women’s health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How can I reduce my risk for heart disease?
  • You can reduce your risk for heart disease by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a heart-healthy diet and staying physically active. Any additional risk factors, such as high blood pressurecholesterol and diabetes, should be properly addressed and controlled through lifestyle changes and working with your healthcare provider.
  • What are significant differences in the cardiovascular health of women vs. men?

  • While additional research is needed further understand the cardiovascular differences between men and women, one significant variation is among heart attack symptoms. For men, the most common sign of a heart attack is pain or pressure in the chest. Women, on the other hand, are more likely than men to have unusual or "atypical" signs of a heart attack, and some of these symptoms may come and go. The danger is that many women are unaware of these differences in symptoms, and will often disregard a heart attack for fatigue or the flu. There are additional recognized differences between men and women, including the time at which the disease sets in, severity of shared risk factors and the presence of unique risk factors associated with hormonal changes and pregnancy.

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