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Dr. Georgiou & Dr. Volgman Discuss Heart Disease

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Dr. Archelle Georgiou speaks with Dr. Annabelle Volgman at the Women's Conference on ways women can advocate for their heart health and symptoms indicating there might be a problem.

Dr. Archelle Georgiou:
Welcome to EmpowHER Live at the Women’s Conference, 2010. I am Dr. Archelle Georgiou and I am here with a special guest, Dr. Annabelle Volgman who is a cardiologist and Medical Director of the Rush Heart Center for Women. Thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. Annabelle Volgman:
It’s my pleasure.

Dr. Archelle Georgiou:
Tell us a little bit about what the Heart Center does and something about your background just as we get started.

Dr. Annabelle Volgman:
Well I have been at Rush University Medical Center for the last 20 years and as an electrophysiologist, which means I am a doctor of arrhythmias for the heart, I would get a lot of women who would complain that their doctors didn’t listen to their symptoms. They were just told they had panic attacks or they were just anxious and they should not worry about their hearts.

And I started thinking about this and I said, “This is not fair, they are not being treated well,” and when the American Heart Association asked me to be involved in the efforts to increase awareness about heart disease in women I felt like I should do something for women and create a heart center for women, and we have been very, very busy since we started that.

Dr. Archelle Georgiou:
Well thank you for starting that. I guess I am wondering why it is that doctors aren’t listening to women’s symptoms. Why so many women have their heart symptoms brushed off as if they are crazy; it’s all in their head; it’s reflux – why is that?

Dr. Annabelle Volgman:
I think that we were misled by the Framingham studies, which is a longitudinal observational study that took people in Framingham, Massachusetts and started looking at them as they got older and men started having heart attacks in their 40s, but they noticed that the women were not having heart attacks or we didn’t have the right tools to measure that these women were also having heart attacks but we just… it’s a different disease in women.

And so the message was men are getting heart attacks; don’t worry about the women. Well that stuck for decades. So then, ten years later, the women started having heart attacks because menopause brings the risk of heart disease.

After menopause a woman’s risk for heart disease goes way up and we are just talking about coronary artery disease. There’s many different kinds of heart disease that women have that men don’t.

Dr. Archelle Georgiou:
So what I am hearing from you is that we were taught that heart disease is a man’s disease therefore when a woman complains of symptoms, it doesn’t occur in women, but don’t women also have different symptoms of heart disease than men do, and if so, what are they?

Dr. Annabelle Volgman:
Well they do because it’s a different process in some of these women. They have something called endothelial dysfunction which is that the blood vessels of the heart don’t react normally when they have disease in that artery. So when they are stressed, either physically or emotionally, they feel different symptoms because it’s a different disease. So they don’t have the classic chest pain or elephant sitting on the chest that makes you go to the emergency room. They sometimes have symptoms of shortness of breath, fatigue, they just don’t feel well. It feels like indigestion and they also have been told that women don’t get heart disease as much as men, and that’s true. We don’t get coronary artery disease as much as men, but we get many different other kinds of heart disease.

Dr. Archelle Georgiou:
So the symptoms are so vague. What I would question is, if you are just not feeling well, maybe having flu-like symptoms, which could be one of the symptoms of a heart attack in a woman, why would you go to the emergency room for that? I mean, what other clues could a woman use to decide that she really needs care for her heart?

Dr. Annabelle Volgman:
Okay, first of all, a woman needs to know her body well. I mean you are not going to go to the emergency room for every little thing that bothers you. First of all, you need to know your risk factors and that’s very important - the five major risk factors for heart disease are diabetes, family history of early heart attacks in your family members, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and cigarette smoking.

If you have one of those risk factors you need to pay attention because it could be a heart attack. If you don’t have any of those risks then the risk goes down. But if you have two or three or four, your risk goes way up. It’s not just an addition; it’s a multiplication of your risk. So you need to pay very close attention to any sensation in the chest, any fatigue or shortness of breath. Shortness of breath should trigger you. Sudden shortness of breath should trigger you to go to the emergency room.

Dr. Archelle Georgiou:
And so what if a woman has these symptoms, either calls her doctor, sees her doctor and she gets blown off because not all doctors are up to speed on the fact that woman do get heart attack.

Dr. Annabelle Volgman:
That’s right.

Dr. Archelle Georgiou:
So what should a woman do if she feels blown off?

Dr. Annabelle Volgman:
First of all, there’s a lot of websites that they can go to. Go to women empowerment websites because there are a lot of heart centers for women. There are a lot of female cardiologists now who are listening to these women. There’s another organization, in addition to EmpowHER, such as Women Heart, which is a program specifically for women with heart disease. So if they have any questions it’s a good website.

I know EmpowHER is a wonderful website for all these questions as well. I have done several videos and we answer all those questions as well. So you need to know where to go to, but there are good doctors out there who will listen.

Dr. Archelle Georgiou:
And hopefully you will support what women should also do which is to speak up and just if you think something is wrong, to go get the care you need.

Dr. Annabelle Volgman:
That’s right. I have several women who have had heart attacks and it was them who asked to get the EKG.

Dr. Archelle Georgiou:
So we are going to end on that positive note that it is women frequently who know what’s wrong with their body and can save their own life and their own heart. So thank you so much for joining us. That was great information.

What everyone listening needs to remember is that you know your body better than anyone else. If you think that you are having signs or symptoms of a heart attack, make sure that you get the care that you need and make sure that you know your own risk factors so that you are well able to talk about why you have the concerns that you do.

This is Dr. Archelle Georgiou. Dr. Annabelle Volgman, thank you so much for joining us, EmpowHER Live, at the Women’s Conference, 2010.

Visit Dr. Archelle Georgiou's EmpowHER Profile

Visit Dr. Annabelle Volgman's EmpowHER Profile

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