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Cardiovascular Institute

Women Take Heart

West Penn Allegheny Health System Offers Unique Array of Cardiovascular Services for Women

Learn how women can take control of their heart health.

It was 14 years ago when Mary Ann Hirt first began to experience problems with her heart. “Out of the blue, my heart started to pound so fast and erratically that I thought I was going to die,” she recalls. “I managed to call 911 as I was collapsing and was rushed to the hospital.”

Mary Ann soon learned that she had atrial fibrillation—an abnormal heart rhythm that is potentially life threatening. “I was taken back when I got the diagnosis,” she said. “To my knowledge, there wasn’t any history of heart disease in my family. I didn’t think this could happen to me.”

Like Mary Ann, millions of other women are not aware they are at risk for developing a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular diseases. But the facts tell a different story. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in American women, killing almost twice as many women than all forms of cancer combined.

“Women experience heart disease differently than men,” said Indu Poornima, MD, a cardiologist at Allegheny General Hospital and medical director for the Women’s Heart Center at West Penn Allegheny Health System’s Cardiovascular Institute. “The symptoms are often different and women are more inclined to dismiss symptoms when they arise.”

Mary Ann didn’t think her irregular heartbeat was a problem until she recently experienced several more frightening episodes. She decided to be more proactive about her heart health. “I wanted to take action to prevent this problem from occurring again,” said Mary Ann. “I learned that the Women’s Heart Center offers a unique range of services tailored to meet my needs.”

The Women’s Heart Center is a resource for women unlike any other in the Pittsburgh area. Women can access an array of gender-specific preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic services at a variety of conveniently located sites. A team of experienced cardiovascular specialists provide women with a wide range of services that address specific heart-related issues women encounter throughout their entire lifespan.

“There are many risk factors for cardiovascular disease than can increase a woman’s chance of developing a heart attack or stroke,” said Dr. Poornima. “For instance, smoking, high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity and a family history of heart disease can put a woman at risk for cardiovascular disease. Also, women who are taking contraceptives, experiencing pregnancy, or going through menopause can develop heart problems. At the Women’s Heart Center, our expert team of women’s heart care experts is ready to meet all of these unique needs.”

The AGH McCandless Building, located at 9335 McKnight Road in Pittsburgh’s North Hills, serves as the flagship site for the Women’s Heart Center. Women visiting this facility have the opportunity to undergo a comprehensive cardiovascular disease risk assessment that helps doctors develop an individualized prevention and treatment plan. Advanced non-invasive cardiovascular diagnostic capabilities include echocardiography, nuclear stress testing, treadmill stress testing and holter monitoring.

Other diagnostic and women’s health services offered at the AGH McCandless Building include laboratory testing, mammography, bone densitometry, gynecology and endocrinology. In addition, the center provides a complete range of services to promote healthy lifestyle changes, such as dietary and exercise counseling, smoking cessation, cholesterol management, diabetes education, blood pressure monitoring, stress management and hormone replacement guidance.

If more advanced treatment is necessary, patients can be referred to subspecialists at Allegheny General Hospital or Forbes Regional Hospital. Consultations are also offered at the Outpatient Care Center in Peters Township.

Today, Mary Ann is enjoying a healthy and active life. “I feel great and don’t have any limitations,” says Mary Ann, who is a nurse at Allegheny General Hospital and a volunteer at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. She adds that it’s important for women to seek medical care at the first sign of a medical problem and even earlier, during regular check-ups. “Many women make the mistake of downplaying their medical symptoms. They think the symptoms will pass. But hundreds of thousands of women die each year because they didn’t take action in time. Women need to pay closer attention to their health.”

Dr. Poornima agrees that it’s important for more women to be more aware of their heart health. “Unfortunately, many women dismiss heart disease as an older man’s disease,” she said. “They don’t know they are equally at risk. As a way to dispel common myths about heart disease, the American Heart Association sponsors the ‘Go Red for Women’ initiative each year. Millions of women, as well as men, are wearing red on National Red Day to create greater awareness of heart disease. Mary Ann is living proof that early diagnosis and treatment saves lives. We hope that more women also take a proactive approach to keeping their hearts healthy.”

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