Annual luncheon spotlights women’s heart health

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Dr. Tracy Neal, a cardiovascular disease specialist at the Cullman Regional Cardiology Clinic, speaks at Friday’s National Wear Red Day Luncheon at Top of the Town. (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN – Women “rocked the red” Friday at the 2019 National Wear Red Day Luncheon hosted by Cullman Regional at Top of the Town. The luncheon and the National Wear Red Day are part of an effort to bring awareness to heart disease and to educate women on causes and prevention during American Heart Month.

Cullman Regional will focus on heart health throughout February by providing free heart health screenings on Feb. 7,14 and 28 from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m.. The screenings will take place in the Colonel Cullman Room in Cullman Regional’s Professional Building 2. Screenings will include the following for all participants at no charge: lipid panel, Body Mass Index, EKG (electrocardiogram), blood pressure check, ABI screening and bone density screening.

Heart disease and stroke cause 1 in 3 deaths among women each year. That’s one woman every 80 seconds. Scientists say 80 percent could be prevented with education and action. 

Heart disease does not discriminate. At Friday’s luncheon, the story of an active 41-year-old mom of three, Jennie Stewart, helped make that point and show that a heart attack can and does happen to those who might never know they are at risk. In the short video, Stewart described a typical day of ballgames, running errands and prepping for company, a day to which most busy moms can relate. Suddenly, Stewart thought her right arm felt funny and had a burning feeling in her chest. She thought it was heartburn, but then the pressure increased and she felt nauseated and began sweating profusely. 

Stewart’s expected guests arrived to find her hunched over and sweating. The gracious host apologized for not feeling well while her friend recognized 911 was needed. Within the hour, Stewart would be in surgery having two stents implanted. Stewart survived to tell her story. 

Dr. Tracy Neal, a cardiovascular disease specialist at the Cullman Regional Cardiology Clinic, spoke to the women about heart health.

He said, “The way the symptoms presented in the video are not all that uncommon,” adding, “Sometimes the symptoms are just very, very subtle.”

Sixty-four percent of women who die suddenly from coronary artery disease (CAD) have no prior symptoms. There is still a 10 percent morality to those who experience a heart attack. The risk is also 10 percent among heart attack victims within 6-12 months following a cardiac event. 

Neal said, “We want to do everything we can to recognize heart disease before people have these types of cardiac events.”

Four of the top factors that contribute to heart disease in women are diabetes, smoking, hypertension and physical inactivity. Smoking is an even greater risk to women than it is for men.

Neal said he feels men are more likely to quit smoking than women after a diagnosis of heart disease or a cardiac event, quipping, “If you scare us (men), we will generally fall in line. With women, it takes a lot to scare you.”

He also warned that women are most likely to present asymptomatic during a cardiac event and are more likely to develop micro-vascular heart disease. 

Thirty percent of people diagnosed with non-cardiac chest pain die from a cardiac cause within five to six years.

Neal explained, “I get a lot of people referred to me who are having chest pains and we realize the chest pain they are having is not a cardiac cause at the time. That doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t have underlying heart disease.”

Prevention is key and knowing your numbers is important. Not smoking and practicing a healthy lifestyle also have great benefits.

Cullman Regional encourages people to take advantage of the upcoming free heart screenings. Walk ins are welcome, but people are encouraged to call to pre-register. 

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