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The WomenHeart Blog presents heart health information and news about the work of WomenHeart, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of women living with heart disease in the U.S. Want to write for us? Reach out to us at communications@womenheart.org.

 

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Top tags: heart disease  advocate  Mary McGowan  Susan Campbell 

Worse Patient Outcomes for Women - We Fight On

Posted By Ella Schneiberg, WomenHeart Communications Associate, Wednesday, January 2, 2019

WomenHeart has been working against gender discrimination in heart health care for twenty years now. A new report by the Journal of the American Heart Association shows that despite the great strides we’ve made, women still have so much to fight for when it comes to healthcare. The research found that women with heart disease report a worse quality of care when compared to men. This is a renewed call to action– we need to work together to ensure all women receive the care and treatment they deserve.

The data also underscores the need for further investigation, as Cardiosmart explains:

“Unfortunately, findings suggest that women with heart disease experience poorer quality of care than men, which can result in poorer patient satisfaction and outcomes. As a result, authors encourage future studies to help explore these gender differences. Authors also highlight the need for efforts to help ensure that women and men receive the same quality of care, regardless of their gender.”

Of course, this report does not come as a surprise to us. For years, our WomenHeart Champions have told their own heart stories of misdiagnoses and mistreatment. We will continue to support, advocate, and educate on behalf of the millions of women living with and at risk of heart disease.

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Keeping Exercise Heart-Healthy in the New Year

Posted By WomenHeart, Friday, December 28, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Take Charge of Your Heart Health with Exercise

The most significant barrier to exercise is not what to do, but finding the motivation to do it. Experts recommend setting short- and long-term goals, or having a very specific plan in place. What else can you do to keep up your routine?
 
Focus on perceived exertion.  Perceived exertion relates to a scale that is used to measure the intensity of your exercise. Heart rate can be a fairly inaccurate measure of how hard you’re working, particularly if you’re on medication for your heart. "We recommend the walk-and-talk test to tell if you’re working hard enough,” says Dalene Bott-Kitslaar, RN, MSN, F-CNP, of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Basically, you should be working hard enough (whether walking or another activity) that you can’t easily carry on a conversation – you have to stop and catch your breath while talking.
 
Don’t sell walking short.  Walking can improve the state of cardiac risk factors like cholesterol, blood pressure, vascular stiffness and inflammation, and mental stress.  Measure your daily steps by wearing a pedometer all day, and try to get your step count up to 10,000 per day. Keep bumping the number up by 1,500 steps a day until you reach the goal. Walking this amount each day can make a real difference – and you only need comfortable clothes and a good pair of shoes.
 
Individualize your routine.  Above all, your exercise should be enjoyable for you! "What works well for one doesn’t work for others,” says Bott-Kitslaar. "Pick something you enjoy. Tap dance – or ballroom dance. As long as you’re moving, your heart is benefiting.” Some women enjoy variety, picking different activities throughout the week to work different muscle groups.
 
Find a "personal trainer” to stay motivated.  Sometimes this can be a personal trainer at your health club, but use what you have available – Bott-Kitslaar’s "personal trainers” are her dogs, who don’t let her sit down after work without their daily walk. "Find someone or something in your life – your dog, your child, your husband or mother – to motivate you to take care of yourself,” she says. With smartphones at our disposal, there are also a number of online personal training apps, or personalized fitness videos that offer guides from the pros. 

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What's Cooking? - December

Posted By WomenHeart, Friday, December 21, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Brewing with Apple
 

Looking for a sip of something hot over the holidays? A cup of apple cider vinegar tea may be just what the doctor ordered. This tea, originally posted in Alternative Daily, contains a delicious blend of cinnamon, lemon, and honey paired with apple cider vinegar—a healthy ingredient known to help lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels. It’s a soothing drink that will surely add to your holiday cheer.

Why it's heart healthy: 

Not only does kicking back with a relaxing tea help to lower stress levels, lemon in teas helps to lower inflammation in the body - boosting digestion and aiding bodily functions. Cinnamon is also a powerful and healthy spice, which can help to lower blood sugar levels and help to reduce heart risks. But be careful not to overdo it, as some experts say high cinnamon may increase the heart rate. 

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The Power of Giving

Posted By Kristina Brooks, Senior Associate, Digital Communications, Thursday, December 20, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The numbers are terrifying. There are 48 million American women living with or at risk of heart disease. As the first and only patient-centered organization for women, our mission is to bring about change and provide education about the leading cause of death in women.

Image result for gayathri badrinathFor 20 years, supporters have made a positive impact in our efforts to achieve these goals – an integral key to our success, and we wouldn’t be celebrating 20 years without them.

WomenHeart board member Gayathri Badrinath and WomenHeart Champion Robin Olson recently created their own online fundraisers to support WomenHeart during #GivingTuesday. For Gayathri, her passion for bringing a mission such as ours to life was most important when deciding to get involved.

Fundraising is a critical element to help organizations such as WomenHeart translate passion into action and live out our mission each day.  With every dollar donated to WomenHeart, we have the opportunity to touch the lives of women whose needs are often underrepresented and under-appreciated.”  

As a board member, Gayathri not only serves the community of women living with heart disease, but also understands what it takes to run a nonprofit. She believes donations are “the backbone helping us to reach our goals.” She used a Facebook fundraiser and the power of her social network to help women who “would otherwise not get the support they need following a heart attack or other significant event.”

One of those women is Robin Olson, a WomenHeart Champion who, by not knowing the signs of a heart attack, almost waited too long to seek emergency care.

“I set up my fundraiser on Facebook because I believe in WomenHeart’s mission. I think people should support WomenHeart because we are helping to educate and give peer support to women with heart disease.”

Friends and family have been a pillar of support for Robin throughout her recovery, and her experience has empowered Robin to pay it forward ever since. So Robin did not hesitate to not only set up her fundraiser, but also volunteer to be one of the faces of WomenHeart’s #GivingTuesday campaign – helping to empower other women and prevent her experience from happening to them. 

By donating today, you can help up us train more WomenHeart Champions to educate women about heart disease, as well as provide in-person and virtual support to thousands of women living with heart disease.

“Our Champions work tirelessly to bring women who need support together, educate them about their heart, and lend a listening ear at a time when it’s most needed,”  says Gayathri. She adds that studies show more work needs to be done to increase women’s awareness of the risks involved in developing and managing heart disease.

Your donation helps to build that community of empowered women, who wake up each day prepared to stand in courage and fight.

Give today.

 
 


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A Note from Mary - December 2018

Posted By Mary Logan, Interim CEO, WomenHeart, Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Updated: Thursday, December 13, 2018

As we close out 2018 and turn our attention to welcoming in the New Year, it’s a natural time to reflect on our experiences throughout the year. It’s also fun to make predictions about the coming year – which, for WomenHeart, will be its 20th year, a major milestone. 

Last year at this time, I never would have predicted that I would be taking a detour to come out of retirement for a few months, helping WomenHeart through its CEO transition.  This detour has turned out to be the most enriching and rewarding experience of 2018 for me. WomenHeart, quite simply, is a gem of a community dedicated to saving the lives of women living with or at risk of heart disease.

This year has been a turning point in the organization, with many changes made or in the works: preparing for a new CEO; planning for the 20th anniversary year; developing and implementing new strategies to diversify the organization’s funding; and more. It’s a lot of change to absorb in a single year for all of you and for your incredible staff team, and all of you have been dedicated, loyal, and supportive during this transition. Thank you!

As I say farewell to all of you who are the essence of WomenHeart, I make my own new year’s prediction that next December, you will be looking back on 2019 with the smile of success. I also predict that you will be looking ahead at 2020 with excitement about the next 20 years, a renewed sense of engagement, and a unified vision about WomenHeart’s future, cheering on a dynamic new CEO with whom the entire community will work to implement big, audacious goals! 

Best wishes to you for a holiday season and a 2019 that fills you with many moments of joy, comfort, laughter, and gratitude. I’m grateful for this experience with you.

 

Kindest Regards,

Mary Logan

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December 2018 - Sharing the Voices of Native American Communities

Posted By Amy Friedrich-Karnik, Director, Public Policy, Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Updated: Thursday, December 13, 2018

Amy's Advocacy Corner

Heart disease is the number one killer of Native American women. As an organization dedicated to serving diverse communities of women living with and at risk of heart disease, WomenHeart has been engaged with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in thinking about ways to impact that rate and to support Native American women living with heart disease.

On Dec. 5, WomenHeart and NHLBI cohosted a day-long Convening on Native American Women’s Heart Health in Washington, DC. The meeting included over 40 experts in Native American health and research, women’s cardiovascular health, and public health programs for diverse Native American populations. A number of community leaders, federal officials and policymakers, and Native American women living with heart disease also attended the event.

The group met at the National Museum of the American Indian to explore best practices and culturally competent ways of engaging and supporting Native American women in preventing and living with heart disease.


There were dynamic panels that presented lessons learned from existing public health programs and allotted time for small groups to generate recommendations for moving the work forward. Two Native women shared their stories and experiences of living with heart disease, including WomenHeart Champion Brandie Taylor, a legislator for the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel in California. Also among the distinguished attendees were Debra Gee, J.D., WomenHeart board member and citizen of the Navajo Nation, who welcomed guests on behalf of WomenHeart.

Participants heard presentations that featured findings from the Strong Heart Study, the largest epidemiological study of cardiovascular disease in American Indians, and panel discussions that centered on some common themes. In particular, speakers echoed the cultural importance of including and listening to elders.

Other topics included keeping stories at the center of work done to raise awareness or to educate about health risks. When designing health interventions that are holistic, leaders were urged to understand and factor in the diversity of experiences and context in which Native American women live, and deputize power to women in Native American communities.

The night before the meeting, WomenHeart and NHLBI co-hosted a reception in the Rayburn House Office Building in cooperation with the Congressional Caucus on Native Americans. Meeting participants mingled with Congress staff members to talk about their work and what brought them to this event.

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Getting Heart Smart with Dr. Jennifer Mieres

Posted By WomenHeart, Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Dr. Jennifer H. MieresThe statistics are sobering. African-American women are more likely to die of heart disease than Caucasian women, while Hispanic women face heart disease nearly 10 years earlier than Caucasian women.

Obesity, high cholesterol, poverty, language barriers, physical inactivity, and lack of information all contribute to increased risk factors for women of color. Studies have found that minority patients may have poorer health because of disparities in health care, or from distrust of their health care provider. These are factors that make it difficult for women to gain control over their heart disease risk.

Dr. Jennifer H. Mieres is co-author of the book Heart Smart for Women along with Dr. Stacey Rosen, and serves on WomenHeart’s Scientific Advisory Council. She says that patients need to develop a partnership with their doctors and effective communication is the key. Health care professionals need to relate to their patients in a way they can understand so they can be active participants in their care. 

Above all, minority women need to be made more aware of their risk for heart disease. Statistics show that less than half of African-American women and even fewer Hispanic women know that heart disease is the leading killer of women, compared to more than half of Caucasian women.

Dr. Mieres also says that genetic predisposition may play a role in the greater incidence of high blood pressure and diabetes in women and men from certain cultures. African-Americans coming to the U.S. from African nations may have a difficult time metabolizing salt after adjusting to a Western diet and lifestyle vastly different from where they once lived.

Cultural norms also present a challenge when it comes to improving one's heart health. Traditional diets high in cholesterol, including fried foods may be tough to give up.  But they contribute to obesity and high cholesterol, two leading risks for heart disease.

Dr. Mieres advises minority women to begin thinking about their family risk factors for heart disease, including their genetic predisposition, in their 20s. And if there is a strong family history of high cholesterol, blood pressure or diabetes in the family, Dr. Mieres suggests making heart health a family affair by seeing a pediatrician to assess the family history and risk for heart disease. The doctor may recommend doing a baseline blood pressure and cholesterol screening on the younger members of the family.

Aside from family history, which we may not be able to control, Dr. Mieres says we all can work toward making heart-smart changes that can dramatically lower a woman's risk for heart disease:

• Do not skip meals; Breakfast is the most important meal of the day

• Eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day

• Broil and bake foods; don't fry

• Eat 2 servings of fish per week

• Be active every day: walk, jog, or dance at least 10 minutes daily

• Find heart healthy substitutions for your traditional favorites

• Remove the salt shaker; use spices and herbs for traditional flavors

Dr. Mieres urges women to make their own health a priority. "If you are not healthy, you will not be able to take care of your family and they need you!"

You can purchase a copy of Heart Smart for Women through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. For more information on the book, visit https://www.heartsmartmovement.com/

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The Best Heart Apps for 2019

Posted By WomenHeart, Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Healthline

Now that the end of the year is fast approaching, many will begin to plan out their top goals and resolutions for the new year. One of the most common resolutions is engaging in better health and fitness habits. Our friends at the Alliance for Aging Research and Healthline have recently shared the best heart disease apps of 2018 to get your new year started on the right track. 

The list features a number of free and paid apps for Apple OS and Android devices, and includes monitors for your heart rate, blood pressure, and trackers that can identify different types of fitness activity. Browse the list, originally posted on Healthline, and find the right fit for your new year health goals. 

READ NOW: The Best Heart Disease Apps of 2018

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A Note from Mary - New Beginnings

Posted By Mary Logan, Interim CEO, WomenHeart, Friday, December 7, 2018
Updated: Friday, December 7, 2018

I'm delighted to introduce you virtually to Kathryn Stephens, WomenHeart's incoming interim CEO. 

As you all have known since I took the interim CEO position with WH last July, my husband John and I are going on an extended trip in mid-January, so my committed time to WomenHeart will be coming to an end at that time.  In order to assure a seamless transition, Kathryn started this week, and we are in the process of working together to hand off the interim CEO baton to her while the executive search committee completes its search for the organization's next CEO.  That search process continues to move forward with fantastic candidates.  I will be saying farewell to all of you later this month, and at the same time I am transitioning into a volunteer role with WH to continue to help Kathryn and the WH team until that mid-January trip. 

Kathryn is a professional interim CEO.  This will be her 12th interim executive role in the non-profit sector.   It’s what she loves to do, and that is obvious in conversation with her.  She has no ending deadline, so she can stay as long as WH needs her to stay. In addition to bringing that overall wisdom, experience, and expertise, Kathryn also has development expertise and is already a very quick study on assessing our development (fundraising) needs and managing that area during the next phase of this interim leadership period. 

Thanks for your help and support in welcoming Kathryn to WH!  Her e-mail address is: kstephens@womenheart.org

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PTSD and Heart Disease: Caring for Mental Health

Posted By Starr Mirza, WomenHeart Champion, Monday, December 3, 2018


I am a heart disease patient, and I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some of it stems from experiences of cardiac arrest and surgery, but a lot of my PTSD comes from my experience with an implanted device meant to save my life.

I was diagnosed with Long QT syndrome, and because of it I’ve experienced hundreds of shocks from multiple implanted cardiac defibrillators (ICD). The ICD is a pacemaker and defibrillator that sends a shock to reset the pace of my heart when it gets into a dangerous rhythm. My ICD has shocked me while walking, climbing stairs, showering, driving, watching television, and sleeping.

The sensation, I imagine, is akin to that of being kicked by a horse in the chest.

Because I was so young when diagnosed, cardiologists struggled to figure out how to set the device for my age. This led to countless numbers of unnecessary shocks, with the device detecting an arrhythmia that wasn’t really there because the settings were incorrect. I developed anxieties and stress about essential daily activities like showering, sleeping, and driving all out of fear I’d be shocked again.

My settings were fixed, but over the last few years, I’ve experienced what’s sometimes called ‘phantom shocks,’ or an electric jolt sensation when the ICD had not fired. But when I feel a phantom shock the symptoms do not differ from the real thing. I sweat, panic, become anxious and angry, hear ringing in my ears, have tunneling vision, and feel pain -- it takes me hours and sometimes more than a day to recover from a phantom shock. 

Most doctors don’t recognize this as a real thing and not much has been written on the topic for patients looking for answers. For the handful of studies I have found, all the case subjects were men. Women especially have a hard time when presenting symptoms and are often viewed as emotional. They’re instead asked questions on relationship and work stress. Doctors don’t always consider it could be trauma from a severe cardiac event.

I recounted my shocks, sweating and night terrors to a general physician. “You talk as if you’ve been to war,” she said. “I hear soldiers say the same things.” She was the first to suggest my phantom shocks could be PTSD and referred me to a therapist. But after bouncing from doctor to doctor and getting little support, I gave up.

It was not until recently that I became aware of PTSD among other heart disease patients. Within communities like Inspire, pacemakers club, or at events, women were coming up sharing similar experiences, thinking they were just nightmares. Many more heart patients might be suffering from PTSD and just don’t know it.
 
If you feel fear, anxiety, stressed or apprehension about a doctor's appointment, are terrified about living your life after cardiac surgery, have been diagnosed with cardiac disease, or dread an implanted cardiac device - know that you are not alone.

Up to 50 percent of Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition sometime in their life. WomenHeart and Mental Health America have worked together to provide free, anonymous assessments to help you tune in to your mental health. Learn more and take an assessment today to get started.  

 

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WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) patient advocacy organization with thousands of members nationwide, including women heart patients and their families, health care providers, advocates and consumers committed to helping women live longer, healthier lives. WomenHeart supports, educates and advocates on behalf of the nearly 48 million American women living with or at risk of heart disease. Our programs are made possible by donations, grants and corporate partnerships.

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