February is all heart

By Angela Vincent Michael, MHS-HFM, LSSBB, CPHQ
Director, Performance Improvement 
Methodist Health System

For many, February is a time to express our affection and appreciation for those we love. But when I grew up, the focus was completely different. For me, February brings back memories of growing up in South Asia and Africa. Here, heart attacks and strokes were common occurrences, especially in women. In fact, the women around me were the ones least likely to seek the care they needed.

This February, I want to help raise awareness of how heart disease kills our loved ones, especially women. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease  is the No. 1 killer of women — more than all forms of cancer combined! Every year, more women than men die of heart disease.

When I was chatting with my friend Ingrid Kindipan, PhD, RN, CCRN, director of  cardiology at Methodist Charlton Medical Center, she reminded me of something I’d forgotten: Heart disease symptoms are different for women than they are for men. According to the Office on Women’s Health, “Women are more likely than men  to have a different symptom of heart attack than chest pain or discomfort. These symptoms include pain in the back, neck, jaw, or throat; indigestion; heartburn; nausea; vomiting; extreme fatigue; or problems breathing.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mayo Clinic, and American Heart Association concur. What’s more, according to an article by Jennifer H. Mieres, MD, FACC, on WomenHeart, “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.” Among Caucasian women, this awareness is more than half.

So more women die of heart disease than all forms of cancer. Heart disease presents very different symptoms in women than in men. And there are health disparities among women of  color when it comes to knowledge and awareness. Whew — trying to absorb all that is a tall order! So where should we start?

I’m throwing my hat in with the Million Hearts® campaign called “Start Small. Live Big.” This campaign collaborated with the CDC Foundation to remind people to make cardiovascular health a priority, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a performance improvement expert and working mom, I love the fact that this campaign turns a huge, potentially scary topic into something approachable, something we can incorporate into our busy daily lives. Although it is focused on adults 55 and older, I think the concept applies to all ages, especially among  women of color.

I invite you to do one thing this month: Talk to just two women about heart health.    If you’re not sure how, here are some conversation tips:

  • Share this article and guide them to the resources in it.
  • Ask if they have heard about the “Start Live Big.” campaign.
  • Make sure they know about the seven symptoms of heart attack in women, and encourage them to seek care immediately if they experience any of them.

Remember that we care for each other and want to be with each other for a long time. If we all put our hearts into spreading awareness of cardiovascular disease, we can make this happen. Don’t you love that?

If you’re looking for an organization that is committed to having the healthiest employees in healthcare, take a look at Methodist Health System. Visit us at Jobs.MethodistHealthSystem.org.

© Methodist Health System