February is American Heart Month, and every year around this time I am flooded with memories from my more than 20 years of experience working in cardiac care. For decades, I worked with men and women who had suffered heart attacks—many of whom needed heart surgery as a result of their heart conditions. Over those years, I was constantly reminded of the lack of focus on prevention in primary care. I also realized that much of the follow up care provided to patients with heart disease was not truly optimized for their individual needs. It was discouraging watching these men and women suffer traumatic events and not have the resources, before and sometimes after, to fully address their wellbeing.
Helping patients address and recover from heart health issues is as rewarding as it is challenging. Not just because so many cases have real life-or-death consequences, but because there are so many times patients potentially could have evaded these life-threatening episodes if they had received more proactive preventative support from the healthcare community. This is particularly true for women.
So, I decided to turn those discouraged feelings into positive change, and with that, shifted part of my career focus to helping men and women identify these risks sooner with the goal to help them prevent a heart attack in the first place—and providing real, personalized guidance for people with heart disease, or after heart attack or surgery. Today, that is part of my focus at Age Management Center of New England.
Why does that matter to you?
Well, do you know your risk level? Some men, and many women, don’t.
That’s shocking. But when we look at the female population, it’s perhaps even more eye opening.
Some 275 million women were diagnosed with cardiovascular disease in 2019, and the disease is responsible for 35% of deaths in females each year. But women are frequently under-represented and even excluded from participating in clinical trials studying how cardiovascular disease affects the female gender. In other words, “cardiovascular disease in women remains understudied, under-recognised, under-diagnosed, and under-treated.”
Thankfully, this phenomenon is being scrutinized of late, particularly by a global, female-led Commission from The Lancet Journals looking to address the inequalities in identifying, diagnosing, treating and preventing cardiovascular disease in women. As outlined in The Lancet article published in May, this Commission aims to raise the number of cardiovascular trials that include women and reduce the global burden of the disease in women by 2030.
I am beyond grateful for the work of this Commission, among others who are researching this critical topic. But I fear—as I imagine everyone on the Commission does—that between now and 2030, far more women than necessary will suffer from cardiovascular disease and related episodes.
Where do we go next?
That falls largely on healthcare providers and researchers. The onus is on us. While incredibly important, isn’t just hypertension and diabetes we need to be alert to. We need to talk to patients about things like anxiety, depression, lifestyle habits, menopause, psychosocial risk factors, environmental risk factors, and beyond—all of which seem to contribute to cardiovascular disease.
At Age Management Center of New England, we strive to help men and women, understand their overall health in a more comprehensive, holistic way. This includes looking out for conditions that can gravely impact patients’ long-term health that may still just be at the early stages, or that may only be a risk factor lying in wait to develop down the road.
To be clear, we aren’t replacing the work of primary care providers, we are building upon it. PCPs’ expertise and focus are paramount to patient health. What we do that differs from their focus, is take a deep and comprehensive look into the hormonal and metabolic signals your body is giving us that might fall outside the “traditional” healthcare check-up—and create plans to optimize your wellness accordingly.
Cardiovascular disease and cardiac care are, for lack of a better phrase, close to my heart. We have come a long way in understanding and addressing heart health. But particularly with females, we have a long way to go before women are equally represented in clinical trials, and subsequently, are as aware of the gender-specific risks, treatments and methods of prevention as their male counterparts may already be.
So I encourage you to consider your heart health. Do you know your numbers: Blood pressure, diabetes risk HgA1c, cholesterol, and beyond? If you don’t, you should. And we can help.
Man or woman, if you would like to examine your risk of cardiovascular disease or put a plan in place to keep your heart healthy, call us to schedule a free screening and learn more about how we can support you.
Please focus on your heart health this month, but more importantly, make it a priority for the rest of your life.
If you’re ready to make an appointment for a free, confidential screening, contact us today.