Women learn about heart health

An audience of mostly women gathered at Iowa Central Community College’s East Campus Friday to hear about women’s heart health and ways to prevent illness.

The Better You Luncheon, a women’s heart health awareness event sponsored by UnityPoint Health – Trinity Regional Medical Center, featured guest speaker Dr. Denise Sorrentino, a cardiologist with the Iowa Heart Center in Ames and Fort Dodge.

Sorrentino said heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for women, though many are under the false impression that it’s cancer.

She also described what she referred to as the “Hollywood Heart Attack,” which is a mental image of a middle-aged or older man grasping at his chest in the emergency room.

“I’ve seen male patients who are in the ER or in my office with their wives next to them,” Sorrentino said. “They come back three or six months later to find out that she was the one who died or had a heart attack or stroke. The whole time she stayed silent.”

One reason for that, according to Sorrentino, is that fact that statistically, most women don’t see their doctors until it’s too late.

“Usually by the time women come in and are being seen, they’re sicker,” she said. “Women also do less well after stents and don’t survive as long after bypass surgery.”

“That’s why we want to be aware of things sooner rather than later,” Sorrento added.

It’s important for women to know their blood pressure numbers and their cholesterol numbers.

“Every female over the age of 18 should know their numbers,” she said. “Even if you had low blood pressure when you were younger you may have higher blood pressure now. If your doctor says your blood pressure’s high, have them treat it and don’t wait too long.”

High blood pressure can be a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Sorrento added that women who have already had a heart attack should keep track of their heart muscle strength.

“Congestive heart failure is when the heart muscle is not effectively pumping blood out,” she said. “It can cause swelling and other problems.”

Many patients who are put on medication are worried about side effects, she said. Those who are worried should consult with their doctors.

“Focus on the good things it can do for you,” Sorrento said. “Reduce your risk of cardiovascular events. We aren’t here to give people more pills. All medication has side effects … but as long as you report major side effects to your doctor it really is quite safe to take.”

Besides raising awareness, the Better You Luncheon also honored two women who participated in the Better You challenge. Diane Macek and Rhonda Fitchett worked with dietitians, trainers and stress management specialists to achieve healthier lifestyles.

Macek said the Better You challenge helped her find time to be healthy.

“I always thought I would have to wait until my kids were grown up,” she said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity. My only wish is that it was a yearlong experience.”

Fitchett said her experiences taught her many lessons.

“You only have one heart and one life,” she said.

Sorrento said all the women who attended were already making a positive impact.

“Tell at least three other women about today,” she said. “Your friends, mother, sister, aunt, grandma or other workers. We need to get the message out to all people, all women, to know your risks and help yourself and other women get healthier.”