NEW MILFORD - With a rising concern nationally about heart disease risks for women, New Milford Hospital has embarked on an awareness campaign.

"We want to let women know what the facts are, and what the reality is in terms of their risk for heart disease," said public relations director Barbara Burnside . The new initiative, part of a national Voluntary Hospital Association program modeled at Yale/ New Haven Hospital , aims to educate women about the importance of keeping a check on their cholesterol, blood pressure, weight and smoking as factors that might lead to a heart attack. In a recent New Milford Hospital/VHA study of 300 women aged 40 to 70 in Litchfield County, Burnside said they discovered a real "disconnect" in how these women perceived their personal risk. The study showed 84 percent of women in Litchfield County qualify as being at risk for heart disease, yet only 28 percent were aware of it, Burnside said. The study also found that while women often fear and check for breast cancer more than they fear heart disease, 50 percent of women die from cardiovascular disease versus 4 percent from breast cancer. "This is the No. 1 killer in women, as well as men, and so when they have symptoms they shouldn't just blow them off and say it's nothing," said Dr.
Michael Levine
, a New Milford cardiologist. One aspect of the HeartAdvantage program is to inform physicians, including obstetricians and gynecologists, so they do not ignore the warning signs. Heart disease can be prevented, and treated. It is not something that develops "out of the blue," Levine said. Other than family history, many factors that lead to coronary artery disease, or any vascular disease, can be changed to greatly improve life expectancy, Levine said. But to reduce the chance of someone suffering a fatal heart attack, people need to take a look at their risks and how best to reduce them, Levine said. New Milford Hospital in April was granted approval to perform cardiac catheterization and primary angioplasty, but the better answer would be to prevent people from getting to a place where they need such intervention, medical officials agree. The hospital has a series of advertisements and brochures that individuals can get either at the hospital or online, and has started distributing posters listing nine questions that all women should ask their doctors. "Our challenge is to get women to act," Levine said, noting that women's symptoms do not always follow the traditional patterns ascribed to men, such as severe chest pain. Symptoms for women could be chronic indigestion, severe, unexplained fatigue, or shortness of breath. The good news is that through these new educational programs people are becoming better informed, talking to doctors and making better life choices, Levine said. "Getting the word out has made a real difference in a lot of people's lives," Levine said.

To learn more about Women's HeartAdvantage, contact New Milford Hospital at (860) 355-2611 or visit its Web site at www.newmilfordhospital.or g