Go Red for Women initiative raises heart-health awareness

Go Red for Women campaign a hit in raising heart-health awareness

Robert Townes remembered feeling somewhat outnumbered on that first Wear Red Day six years ago. Although he had donned the appropriate hue, few others were sporting it.

But over the years, he has seen a shift in awareness about this American Heart Association initiative.

"I never would have imagined how quickly this would take off," he said, adding that he has seen more and more people reaching for vibrantly colored ties and scarves, coats and hats, shirts and blouses, suits and dresses and pants and skirts on the first Friday in February.

"The tag line is wear red in your own fashion," said Townes, who has quite a few red ties from which to choose.

Wear Red Day is part of Go Red for Women, a larger initiative aimed at raising awareness about women's heart disease and cardiovascular health, as well as research funds, said Townes, who grew up in Stamford and now serves as the senior communications officer for the association's Connecticut chapter.

The initiative works to change perceptions about women's heart disease. Although cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke, is the leading cause of death for women (as well as men) in the state and in the United States, the association reports that many women are unaware of that risk, which increases as they age. The agency reports that one in three U.S. women will die of cardiovascular disease this year, in comparison to the one in 30 U.S. women who will die of breast cancer.

The association's lead partner in Fairfield County is Stamford Hospital. The two organizations are sponsoring a Go Red for Women luncheon on Feb. 25 at the Hyatt Regency Greenwich, which typically attracts hundreds of participants.

"Our objective for the entire month is to offer awareness activities that get the message out that it is all about education, prevention and wellness," said Ellen Komar, director of Stamford Hospital's Heart and Vascular Institute, referring to the fact that February also is American Heart Month.

Area hospitals will be marking Friday's Wear Red Day with health fairs, fundraisers, and, of course, the wearing of red.

The Go Red initiative, which is year-round, works to dispel the notion that heart disease is only a risk for men. A number of factors seem to have led to that disconnect, from an under-representation of women in heart disease studies, gender differences in the presentation of symptoms and the tendency of women, typically those with growing families, to serve as better caregivers to others than they are to themselves.

"Women are not always so good about prioritizing their own needs," said Dr. Kathleen Harper, co-director of the Women at Heart, Regina L. Cozza Center at St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport.

She gave as an example a patient in her 40s who, by the time she arrived for treatment, had already had a heart attack. She had experienced some symptoms, including shortness of breath, but had a packed schedule that included dropping a child off to a practice, picking up groceries and other tasks, so she had continued on her appointed rounds.

Symptoms associated with the onset of a heart attack, which can start slowly, include discomfort or pressure in the chest, pain in the upper body, shortness of breath, nausea and, in some cases, fainting.

But even physicians can find it a challenge when it comes to women's symptoms.

Although men can experience the gamut of symptoms, they typically present themselves to doctors with chest discomfort, a feeling that is often described as "an elephant sitting on your chest," said Dr. Stuart Zarich, chief of cardiovascular medicine at Bridgeport Hospital for the past 14 years.

Women more often arrive with a more vague set of issues, shortness of breath, nausea, heartburn, pain in their shoulders and lightheadedness, all of which are symptoms that are associated with other conditions and illnesses.

But there are steps that can be taken and resources that can help to better assess a woman's heart health, even before symptoms arrive, experts said.

A good first step is to know the numbers that can signal heart health -- including blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels and body mass index, among others, said Dr. Alon Ronen, who is co-director of the Women at Heart, Regina L. Cozza Center and on the staff at the Bridgeport-based Connecticut Heart and Vascular Center. He also is affiliated with Norwalk Hospital.

Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being overweight, poor diet, and having diabetes, among others. Armed with this information, a medical team is better able to identify early risk factors, assess symptoms that may present themselves and work toward a treatment plan that reduces risk -- such as diet changes and increased physical activity.

"But lifestyle changes can be difficult," he said. "Sometimes, people are too apt to rely on gimmicks for prevention."

It is hoped that the programs and events scheduled this month, most of which are low to no cost, will encourage women, and men, to pay better attention to their ticker and give them the resources to do so.

"We know we have a lot of validated information about the ability to minimize or reverse heart disease, in some cases, with lifestyle changes," said Peggy Martino, program director for cardiology and medicine at Greenwich Hospital. "It is message of empowerment."

There already are some signs that people are beginning to understand the risks.

"We've been reasonably effective in alerting older women that they need to be checked and screened," Harper said, adding that while younger women are aware of the problem, they may not take that next step to talk with a doctor or set up a screening.

Townes concurred.

"Many more women are now aware of the problem," he said. "But now we have to help them to do something about it."

-- Staff Writer Christina Hennessy can be reached at Christina.hennessy@scni.com or 203-964-2241.

- For more information about Wear Red Day and other Go Red for Women initiatives, visit www.goredforwomen.org.

Heart healthy

With February deemed American Hearth Month, the next several weeks will feature programs and events aimed at helping the public better understand cardiovascular disease and the steps and measures that can be taken to prevent and reduce it.

At many of these events, participants have a chance to be screened or set up a screening to assess their cardiovascular health.

"Screenings are essential," said Sheila Kempf, vice president of cardiovascular services at St. Vincent's Medical Center.

She said a screening can determine a baseline view of a patient's potential risk factors. And, if problems are caught early on, there is a possibility that lifestyle changes and other actions can lead to prevent or reduce the chances of a cardiovascular condition.

And the screenings do not have to just take place in February,

For instance, Norwalk Hospital works with Independence, Ohio-based Life Line Screening, which provides community-based preventative screenings throughout the year, according to Maura Romaine, hospital spokeswoman, who added that they can help uncover conditions whose symptoms largely go unnoticed, or, when presented for the first time, can cause severe damage or death.

Some are online resources, such as Bridgeport Hospital's "Take 10 for Your Ticker," a free online (bridgeporthospital.org) risk quiz of 10 questions developed by Dr. Stuart Zarich, chief of cardiovascular medicine at Bridgeport Hospital. Officials pointed out that it does not replace a physical exam, but it may inspire some to improve their lifestyle habits.

And, the American Heart Association (mylifecheck.heart.org) has launched its Life's Simple 7, a series of measures that are doable, relatively inexpensive and can improve cardiovascular health.

Many of the hospitals have programs specifically geared toward women, which feature special events, discounts for services and products and other resources.

Given that women are often the primary caretakers of their families and tend to be the primary consumers of health, "they influence the health" of more people than just themselves, said Mary Henwoord-Klotz, administrator of the Center for Integrative Medicine & Wellness at Stamford Hospital.

As it is at Stamford Hospital, and other places, a more holistic approach toward heart care is employed, from tips for healthier cooking to exercise plans to guidance on a healthier grocery list.

Here are just some of the events taking place:

Heart health fairs

- Bridgeport Hospital -- A free Heart Institute Day will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Feb. 10, in the hospital's main lobby, 267 Grant St. There will be free blood pressure screenings and other health screenings, as well as information on healthy diets, smoking cessation programs, techniques to treat and ways to prevent heart disease. For information, call 203-384-3802 or 203-384-3845.

- St. Vincent's Medical Center -- The fourth annual Heart Health Fair, hosted by St. Vincent's Regional Heart & Vascular Center, will run from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Feb. 11, in the center's main lobby, 2800 Main St., Bridgeport. This free event will feature 14 booths, some of which will be offering free health screenings, including body fat analysis, body mass index and blood pressure screenings. Participants will be urged to employ overall health and wellness strategies to reduce the chances of developing cardiovascular disease. For more information, call 877-255-7847 or visit www.stvincents.org.

- Greenwich Hospital -- Heart Health Fair, 8 to 11 a.m., Feb. 12 at Noble Conference Center, 5 Perryridge Road, Greenwich. Participants will have a chance to talk with experts and hospital staff at this free event. While registration is not necessary, a free metabolic screening will be offered to the first 65 people who request it. To register, call 203-863-4277 or 888-305-9253.

Special events

- American Heart Association and Stamford Hospital -- Go Red for Women luncheon event, 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Feb. 25, at the Hyatt Regency Greenwich, 1800 E. Putnam Ave., Old Greenwich. Stamford Hospital is providing a series of medical experts to discuss women's health issues, including cardiovascular disease. The day also will feature keynote speaker Jean Chatzky, financial editor to NBC's Today show and a bestselling author. The fee is $200. For more information, e-mail potoula.gjidija@heart.org or call 914-640-3262.

- Stamford Hospital -- Fourth annual Day of Dance, 10 a.m., Feb. 27, The Holiday Inn, 700 E. Main St., Stamford, is a free event for women, hosted by the hospital's Spirit of Women health initiative and the Fairfield County Chapter of The Links, Inc.. Area dance instructors will guide participants in free classes. A dance competition also is offered, but preregistration is required. In between the dance steps, participants can check out free health screenings, which include those for cholesterol and bone density, among others, and talk to medical experts about cardiovascular health. Registration is required, by calling 877-233-9355 or by visiting www.stamfordhospitalheart.com/preventionwellness/events.aspx.

Lectures and talks

- Greenwich Hospital -- Today, Alexander Del Vecchio, cardiologist and electrophysiologist will talk about pacemakers, defibrillators and pacemakers, noon to 1 p.m., Noble Conference Center, 5 Perryridge Road, Greenwich. To register for this free event, call 203-863-4277 or 888-305-9253, or visit www.greenwichhospital.org.

As part of the Women's Health Initiative lecture series, the hospital will present cardiologist Nieca Goldberg for a free Feb. 18 talk that is entitled, "Cardiovascular Disease: Are Women Still Treated Like Small Men?" The author of several books, Goldberg also is a national Go Red for Women initiative spokeswoman. The event will be from noon to 1:30 p.m., at the Noble Conference Center at the hospital, 5 Perryridge Road, Greenwich. Box lunches are available for $10. To register, call 888-305-9253 or go online to www.greenwichhospital.org.

- Bridgeport Hospital -- A free lecture, "Women: Don't Miss Life's Special Moments," will be offered at 7 p.m., Feb. 25, at the Trumbull Marriott, 180 Hawley Lane, by cardiologist Linda Casale, cardiac surgeon Michael Dewar and cardiac electrophysiolgist Michael Logue. They will discuss the prevention, diagnosis and latest treatments for heart disease and heart rhythm conditions in women. To register, call 888-357-2356.

- Norwalk Hospital --Cardiologist Stephen Michaelson will speak on heart health at 10 a.m., March 16, at the Norwalk Senior Center, 11 Allen Road, Norwalk

-- Christina Hennessy