Women's Health Hot Line


February 1 is Women's Heart Health Day!

Much to my dismay, heart disease -- the top killer of women in this country -- has long been overlooked. This is why I have campaigned recently to establish February 1 as "Women's Heart Health Day."

I am delighted that this special day is already listed in the directory Chase's Annual Events. But I want more. I want women whose lives have been affected by heart disease to speak up and demand attention. I want women who are at risk of heart disease -- but don't know it -- to learn more about this threat, which is more common than breast cancer.

Here are three suggestions to help draw attention to the problem of women and heart disease:

  • Contact your local Congressional reps and urge them to keep funding efforts for women and heart disease.

  • If you belong to an organization, ask the activities chairman to schedule a program about women and heart disease. You can obtain a speaker and free materials from your local affiliate of the American Heart Association.

  • Contact your local newspaper and suggest a story about women and heart disease.

Women's Heart Health Day a success

The response to the first-ever Women's Heart Health Day on February 1 was truly overwhelming.

The food manager of a large national corporation requested heart healthy recipes, numerous nursing homes wrote for suggested activities and mall managers requested display material__pedia also responded with requests for television, radio and print interviews. And this was only the first year! I have no doubt media also responded with requests for television, radio and print interviews.

And this was only the first year! I have no doubt that with this level of interest, the observance of Women's Heart Health Day will grow in the coming years.

How to evaluate confusing medical news

Is pasta good for you or will it make you fat? Does using margarine prevent -- or cause -- heart attacks? Is your daily cup of Java a harmless pick-me-up or a health threat?

The media reports something new about health risks every day, it seems. What's worse, the news is often conflicting.

Confused? You're not alone. Even the experts get confused. We don't intend to pass along misinformation, but sometimes we write the exact opposite of the sage advice we conveyed only weeks before.

Hype or fact? Some tips:

Here are tips to help you separate scientific fact from the hype.

  • Be a discriminating reader. News stories written by medical writers for such major publications as The New York Times are generally far more informative than those appearing in smaller newspapers or most tabloids.

  • Don't stop at headlines or the first few paragraphs. There may be important information tucked further down.

  • If the medical news is based on study results, what kind of study is it? There are basically three different types of studies -- experimental, epidemiologic and clinical. Experimental studies generally use animals, are preliminary and need to be verified later using humans before determining if the findings are relevant.

Epidemiologic studies make observations from a given group of participants over time, but do not involve intervention or action.

Clinical studies are used to back up epidemiologic reports before firm conclusions can be made or an intervention happens. In terms of evaluating studies, it is the clinical studies which contain the final word so many of us seek.

  • Was the research done with people like you? A study using Finnish men made headlines about the role of iron in American women -- for the wrong reasons! It raised important questions about the differences in genetics, diet and gender between Finnish men and American women, to name just a few.

Is this the first time these results have ever been reported? If so, it will take awhile for backup studies to be completed. There is a big difference between the results of a single study or two and consensus statements reported by organizations like the American Heart Association. Sometimes the recommendations do change, but not without lots of research.

  • Do the results make sense? If there is sound reasoning behind the finding, the chances are better it will hold up over time.

By following these steps, you'll increase your knowledge of your medical problems -- and pick up some valuable information to check with your doctor.

An agenda for women's health

Women's health issues took center stage when the Third Annual Congress on Women's Health convened in Washington, D.C. The conference brought together top experts to share views and the latest research on how women can live healthier lives. Here are three of the top issues:

  1. Heart disease remains the leading killer of American women. The American Heart Association has finally added "being a female over the age of 55" as a risk factor for heart disease; previously, women were not mentioned at all.
  2. Also, although the death rate from heart disease has declined in men, it has not dropped in women. This is because heart disease is still being diagnosed more promptly and treated more aggressively when it occurs in men.

  3. Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of older women, not breast cancer. While the death rate from breast cancer has remained relatively stable, lung cancer in women has skyrocketed because of smoking. If you smoke, your risk of lung cancer is 10 times that of a non-smoker. If no one smoked, 74 percent of lung cancer cases would disappear.

  4. Stroke is another overlooked disease in women, even among doctors. The majority of strokes occur in women and that rate is increasing. Women are less prone to stroke when they are younger, but, as we age, our rate of stroke catches up.

An agenda for women's health

A Gallup survey revealed that although heart disease is the biggest killer of American women, doctors too often do not recognize this fact. The survey results underscore the need for more information, not only for women, but for their doctors as well.

Highlights of the report:

Four out of five women do not know that heart disease is their leading cause of death.

One-third of the doctors did not know this either.

Two out of three physicians think that the risk factors for heart disease are the same in men and women. (They're not!)

88 percent of physicians and 70 percent of women believe that the symptoms of heart disease in men and women are the same. (They're not!)

Despite recent publicity about gender bias in the treatment of women's hearts, 78 percent of physicians have not increased the number of women they refer over the past year.

Half of the women surveyed do not know menopause increases their risk for heart disease.

The national survey was taken of 300 primary care physicians and 505 women. It was conducted as part of the Women's Heart Health Initiative.

TV show and book win honors

The PBS special Women's Hearts at Risk and the book 50 Essential Things To Do When The Doctor Says It's Heart Disease have been named among the finest educational materials for older Americans in 1996. Both were co-created by medical journalist Charlotte Libov, editor of Women’s Health Hot Line.

"I was thrilled that both these works won awards. My hope is that they will bring more attention to the important issue of women and heart disease," said Libov, who helped create and is featured in Women’s Hearts at Risk. She is also co-author of 50 Essential Things To Do When The Doctor Says It's Heart Disease.

Both the show and book received bronze honors in the National Mature Media Awards, selected from more than 1,000 entries. Judged by a distinguished panel of mature market experts from across the country, they were evaluated for overall excellence of design, content, creativity and relevance.

Women's Hearts at Risk is available on video by calling 800-443-2156; 50 Essential Things To Do When The Doctor Says It's Heart Disease can be purchased in local bookstores or by calling Penguin USA at 800-253-6476.

Spotlight on ... Terese Lasser

Terese Lasser, or "Ted," as she was known, has a familiar last name because of her husband's best-selling tax guides. But it was Ted Lasser who made life better for countless breast cancer victims.

In 1952, Lasser was told she would be undergoing a biopsy. When she awoke, she’d had a radical mastectomy. Although that procedure was common at the time, women were kept shockingly unprepared.

Lasser could find no one, including her surgeon, who would answer her questions or show her how to regain her mobility. So she devised her own program, sneaking back into the hospital to teach it to others (often to be escorted out by hospital staff). Eventually, though, her practices were adopted by the American Cancer Society and became its "Reach for Recovery" program. Although Ted is now gone, her program, and her activist spirit, live on today.

We are indebted to journalist Barbara Seaman for bringing Lasser’s contributions to our attention. Seaman, who is writing a history of the women’s health movement, says that most of the individuals who shaped the women’s health movement were not doctors or health providers, journalists or authors, legislators of academicians. "They were mostly patients who wanted a better break," she observes.