UI to develop heart disease prevention program


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If it wasn’t for a visit to the dentist about a little toothache, Jennifer Long would not have had her blood pressure taken nor would she have known she had a serious heart problem.

“I didn’t really see a physician unless I was very sick,” said Long, a clinical director of the University of Iowa Heart and Vascluar Center. “I truly believe that if I had not had a tooth issue … I would have been a lot worse off with heart disease.”

Milena Gebska, a UI clinical assistant professor of cardiologiy, said because women fail to recognize heart disease symptoms, the Cardiology Department has established a heart-disease-prevention program aimed at women set to launch in July.

With cardiovascular disease being the No. 1 killer of women in the United States, every major university in the country has a women’s heart center except for the UI Hospitals & Clinics.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every four deaths in the nation in 2012 was due to heart disease. Heart disease and stroke accounted for 32 percent of all female deaths, and approximately 12 women died each day from heart disease or stroke in Iowa in 2012.

Gebska said the severity of the disease compared with other leading diseases in the country is unrecognized.

“According to our statistics, heart disease greatly outweighs cancer risk,” she said. “This is a very important issue to us here at the University of Iowa.”

Julie Andsager, a UI journalism professor who has studied health information in the media, said breast cancer research foundations have been successful in focusing women’s attention on breast cancer as a primary health concern.

“Heart disease kills far more women than breast cancer,” she said. “Which is not to diminish the very real effects that cancer has but to point out that an organized, active group can make a large difference in news media coverage.”

Gebska said the CDC has seen an increase in younger women with heart disease.

“Women are more independent now; they have much more responsibilities, they are under more stress, and they need to work harder to earn the same amount of money,” she said.  “They don’t have time to take care of themselves; they are busy moms and they’re busy taking care of everything else just to keep the household together.”

The prevention program will aim to help women carry out a healthier lifestyle by offering a text messaging communication service allowing outpatient follow-ups. Gebska said patients who sign up will be able to text message back and forth with a UI cardiologist on a daily basis.

“We could … see whether just through a simple measure of knowing that someone is there caring for them, wanting them to get better, live healthier, and longer, whether that would change their lifestyle,” she said.

Additionally, patients will have the option to sign up for a six-month package plan that will include cardiovascular risk assessments, dietary consultation, smoking cessation, physical capacity assessments, as well as personal exercise programs, educational seminars by physicians, and culinary classes with food sampling. This package plan will cost $200.

“We feel that patients who pay for their services are much more motivated, as compared with those who enroll for free,” Gebska said. 

The package plan will create a comfortable environment for patients to work on improving their health with people who share common goals, she said..

“Going to a private group has a tremendous advantage,” she said. “They are not exposed to the public gyms, where there are many athletic women and men intimidating them.”

Andsager said educating women on how to live healthily is important, but it is vital to inform them on how to recognize heart disease symptoms.

“I hope that Iowans will become more informed about women’s distinct symptoms of heart attacks and other cardiac health issues so that we are more likely to recognize women’s heart problems when we see the symptoms,” she said. “That alone can save lives.” 

Long said having supportive physicians at the Heart and Vascular Center has encouraged her to give a 100 percent effort to improving her health.

“I don’t want to be some sickly old person who can’t enjoy life after I’m finished working,” she said. “I have worked too hard in my life not to be able to enjoy my retirement.”

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