MANCHESTER >> Cardiology specialists from Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC) held a free discussion on heart disease for women titled "Don't Miss a Beat" at the Manchester Community Library on Wednesday evening.
Over two dozen women showed up to hear a testimony from local heart attack survivor Eileen Murray and receive educational tips from Cardiologist Jennifer Thuermer, and Patricia Ryan from the Cardiac Rehabilitation program at SVMC.
"This is amazing. We all think cancer is the number one killer, but heart disease is the number one killer of women," Ryan said. "When we talk about cardiovascular disease, we mean heart disease and stroke."
The talk was issued to spread awareness and develop conversation about a better understanding of heart disease in women and how to lower the risk. Heart disease causes one in three deaths each year, according to a release from SVMC. Women typically do not experience the same symptoms as men when experiencing heart-related issues and instead feel indigestion, nausea, or headaches.
The clinicians, when going over risk factors for heart disease, stressed the fact that family heritage and genetic health issues cannot be changed, but that 80 percent can be prevented by lifestyle changes that include weight management, increased physical activity and eating healthy.
Risk factors elaborated on included cholesterol, diabetes, heart attack and stroke, high blood pressure, tobacco smoking, obstructive sleep apnea and obesity.
Ryan said that 70 percent of her program participants are diabetic.
"Obstructive sleep apnea is a big up and coming problem in cardiovascular disease, probably most predominately in hypertension and atrial fibrillation because it's almost always associated," Thuermer explained. "People can feel a thousand times better if they have it, if they're treated for it and they have to have a sleep study and no one wants to have a sleep study. We pair it with obesity because a lot of our patients who have obstructive sleep apnea are obese."
Murray was previously featured in The Banner and proved to the listeners that any abnormal symptom is not something to be embarrassed about. The mother experienced a heart attack days after giving birth, but attributed her symptoms to indigestion or gas while in the hospital.
They also mentioned that pains in the stomach, wrist, shoulder, biceps and both arms could be signs of a heart attack in both women with and without diabetes.
According to the heart health guide provided at the talk, those with high cholesterol are at a greater risk for heart disease, and about 47 percent of American adults have cholesterol levels that are too high.
Thuermer and Ryan focused heavily on making a lifestyle change in order to prevent from heart disease and suggested getting a cholesterol check to be safe.
"Today's America is not the quintessential dietary choices for people, everything's easy to make, microwavable or prepackaged," Thuermer said. "It's hard and it's expensive to eat well. If nothing else, portion control. Cut it in half."
Shortly after, she addressed tobacco smokers and how most of the patients Thuermer sees have smoked their entire lives.
"It's all choices, but if you smoke, its such an enormous risk factor," she said. "This is what I have to tell my young patients. You're going to get lung cancer, it's inevitable. But when it comes to young people, its plaque rupture."
One woman confessed that after the talk she would consider quitting smoking cold turkey after stating she only smoked two to three cigarettes a day. Another woman joked that by getting Lyme disease, smoking wouldn't be an option from being so sick.
Information sheets for the Bennington Free Clinic's Ladies First program were available at the discussion as well. Advocate Cindy Krautheim advised the attendees that they may not be eligible to be a Ladies First member, but should spread the word to younger females who qualify. Ladies First helps uninsured women get breast and cervical testing as well as a cardiovascular risk assessment, which is new this year. Members also receive a free gym membership based on a mutual agreement. Those interested should contact Krautheim at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ladiesfirstvt.org.
For more information on SVMC's cardiac rehabilitation program, call 802-447-5132.
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.