An innovative program that screens women for heart disease during a visit to the gynecologist has found that nearly one in eight women has three or more cardiac risk factors but many don’t know it, according to a study presented today at the SCAI 2012 Scientific Sessions.
The ob/gyn screening program, launched in October 2010, is a result of a collaboration between SCAI's Women in Innovations ("WIN") and Abbott's Women's Heart Health Initiative. Its goal is to improve awareness and prevention of cardiovascular disease among women by taking screening tools and educational materials to the gynecologist’s office, where most women seek some, if not most, of their medical care. Among women screened through this program, 20 percent listed their gynecologist as their only primary care physician.
“Gynecologists have a pivotal role to play in women’s cardiovascular health, and they are enthusiastic about this program,” said Sudhir Mungee, MD, FSCAI, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Peoria. “The keys to the success of this initiative are collaboration among physicians and empowerment of women with knowledge.”
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among women. In fact, health statistics show that among women ages 35 to 44, the rate of cardiovascular death is increasing by 1 percent each year.
The ob/gyn screening program succeeds by keeping things simple. A woman fills out a one-page questionnaire about her cardiovascular risk at her yearly visit to the gynecologist. If she has more than two risk factors, the gynecologist sends a letter advising her to see a primary care physician for follow-up.
The screening covers more than just traditional cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes and a family history of heart disease. It also screens for warning symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest pain, as well as pregnancy-related complications such as pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and gestational hypertension.
“Obstetrical risk factors are often a first warning that a woman will be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease in her 40s and 50s when she goes through menopause and loses hormonal protection,” Dr. Mungee said.
For the study, researchers surveyed 500 women over the age of 40. They found that 13 percent of women had three or more cardiovascular risk factors. Of the women with high cholesterol (>200 mg/dL), 80 percent were aware of the problem. Only 6.5 percent of women with a blood pressure above 120/80 mmHg were aware of that it was abnormal, while 68 percent of women with a body mass index (BMI) >25 knew they were overweight. Women who had gone through menopause, had undergone hysterectomy, or had had their ovaries removed all had significantly more risk factors (p<0.0001, p = 0.002 and p = 0.0002, respectively).
“The numbers are staggering when you think about the 200 million women who have not been screened,” Dr. Mungee said. “If a gynecologist is the only doctor a woman sees in a year, that’s an opportunity we can’t afford to lose.”
The ob/gyn screening program is funded by Abbott. Dr. Mungee is on a speakers panel for Abbott Vascular. He reports no other potential conflicts of interest.
To access the screening tool used in the pilot study click HERE.