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CARBONDALE — February is American Heart Month, a federally designated event that reminds Americans to focus on heart health. Since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the first heart month proclamation in 1964, the American Heart Association and others have been stressing the importance of heart health.

In 2003, the AHA and National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute took action against disease that was killing nearly 500,000 American women each year — one many women were simply not giving any attention — heart disease. National Wear Red Day, held the first Friday of February each year, was born.

Southern Illinois Healthcare and the American Heart Association teamed up with the Furniture King to bring the red couch to the offices of Prairie Heart Institute Southern Illinois Healthcare. The idea is simple: Sit on the red couch and take a selfie with your friends or co-workers. Then post the picture to social media to remind the women in your lives to stay heart healthy.

Dr. Varadendra Panchamukhi and Dr. Magdalena Zeglin, both interventional cardiologists at Prairie Heart Institute, said women often have different symptoms during a heart attack or acute myocardial infarction than men.

“For an acute MI, chest pain may not be classic,” Panchamukhi said.

Women are more likely to experience pain that radiates, such as arm pain, stomach pain or back pain. They also may have other atypical symptoms, such as nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, and feeling light-headed or dizzy.

Elizabeth Ogden, STAT Heart and STEMI coordinator, said women’s symptoms are so atypical that they may think of them as something other than a coronary issue.

“They tend to wait too long to get care,” Ogden said.

“For some part of life, women are protected by estrogen. It evens out between age 60 and 65,” Zeglin said.

While we think of heart disease as a disease of “old people,” Ogden says the trends in admissions show something a little different. Admissions began to spike in ages 45 to 54 during the first three quarters of 2017. Hospital admissions were the highest in ages 55 to 64.

Zeglin explained that while older women are at higher overall risk, mortality rates in younger women are higher.

“Younger women have more calcified plaque, and they present much sicker,” Zeglin said.

Zeglin thinks one reason younger women are sicker when they seek treatment is that they are the caregivers of the family and pay more attention to the needs of others.

“Women usually are the backbones of the family and take care of children,” Zeglin said. “They may think they have the stomach flu with sweating and nausea as their only symptoms (and delay seeking treatment).”

She added that women also can make greater impact on the lives and health of their families. When they take the forefront in heart health, the whole family makes better food choices and gets more exercise.

“Activity is the key,” Zeglin said.

Dr. Cesar Coello, cardiologist with Prairie Heart Institute, agreed.

“Stay on the move,” Coello said. “It’s the key for overall health, not just heart health.



Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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