The 5th Annual Women’s Heart Symposium was held on Saturday, February 16, at the UNC Friday Center.
For the fifth consecutive year, the UNC Department of Medicine’s Division of Cardiology and UNC Heart and Vascular Center raised awareness for the heart of a woman, inviting women of all ages and backgrounds to learn from professionals in the field. UNC Women’s Basketball Head Coach Sylvia Hatchell started the day with an inspiring message about living your best life, welcoming the largest audience turnout to date, that came to hear a panel of experts share insights and field questions about heart care and wellbeing.
“All women can face the threat of heart disease, but awareness of the symptoms and risks unique to women, combined with preventative care, can help to protect you,” said Dr. Paula Miller, Clinical Professor of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology, Medical Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation, and Medical Director of the Women’s Heart Program at UNC’s School of Medicine
Registered Dietitian Judy Hinderliter from UNC Wellness Centers at Meadowmont Cardiac Rehabilitation Program led a discussion about sodium and healthy eating. She identified popular myths and truths of diets, later put into practice with a healthy lunch menu that she coordinated with the Friday Center.
Registered Nurses Candace Beddard and Ellen Hampsey, also UNC Nurse Practitioner students, emphasized the importance of identifying the risk factors for heart disease.
“A risk assessment can give us clues as to what your cardiovascular risk will be,” said Beddard. “If we can find those ahead of time, we can do everything we can to help modify them, or prevent them from progressing. Then, we have a better chance of preventing cardiovascular disease.”
The risks for men and women were recognized as smoking, diabetes, hypertension, a former history of CVD, being overweight/obese, having high cholesterol levels, physical inactivity, systemic autoimmune diseases and depression. However, unlike men, women may have additional risk factors, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, early menopause, hormone replacement therapy, and pregnancy complications.
Beddard also recognized issues concerning the screening of women. “Research shows 22% of primary care providers feel unprepared to assess a woman for cardiovascular risk, less than a quarter of primary care physicians. That’s a really low number we’d like to see increase.”
Other common perceptions lead to missed opportunities to assess a woman’s risk. Many women think their provider will discuss their risk, if it could be a problem, and may not bring it up. Many women also delay seeing a provider because they want to lose weight first.
Jacqueline Crawford, age 55, drove from Harnett County to attend the symposium. At 44, she had a heart attack that changed her life.
“I came to learn so that I can continue to be an advocate for my own heart health,” Crawford said. “Women need to know the risk factors for heart disease and the statistics, which have changed over the years. Having Dr. Miller as my cardiologist has helped me feel comfortable about doing the things I enjoy.”
Symposium speakers also included Tracy Vernon-Platt, MSN, ANP-BC, discussing valvular disease, Annie Narla, MD, MAS, who talked about managing atrial fibrillation, and Thelsa Weickert, MD, who explained how the heart functions and what tests can reveal.