By Joyce DeWallace, Contributing Writer
Worcester – Dr. Cynthia Ennis, a cardiologist and electrophysiologist at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, is the founder and director of the Women’s Heart Health Program. Ennis grew up in Shrewsbury and currently lives with her husband and three children in Westborough.
She is passionate about spreading the message that women need more information and resources in regard to heart problems.
“More women die of cardiovascular disease, including strokes, than all forms of cancer combined,” said Ennis. “One of the most common medical myths is that breast cancer kills more women than heart disease. It’s just not true.”
Second on her list of common misconceptions is that if a woman doesn’t have chest pain, she’s not having a heart attack.
“In fact,” explained Ennis, “75 percent of women don’t have chest pain. They may experience pain in their jaw, arms, back or stomach. They may be overwhelmed with fatigue, feel nauseous or short of breath.” Some symptoms mimic heartburn, the flu, or a stomach ulcer.
The third mistaken belief is that women can’t do anything to prevent heart disease. Ennis felt it important to emphasize that 80 percent of cardiovascular deaths are preventable with lifestyle changes and proper medications. Women especially need to be more aware of their own numbers and what they mean. Those numbers are blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and A1C for diabetics and pre-diabetics.
“Most women’s number one concern is weight, but activity makes a huge difference. A couch potato has a much greater chance of a heart attack,” added Ennis. Her simple prescription to stay healthy is to walk more and eat less. Too much stress in and of itself can lead to heart failure.
Lastly, she wants women to understand that since females often have atypical symptoms and the disease looks different in women, they may not get the same treatment as men.
“Men get quicker treatment even when they present without chest pain,” said Ennis. “All it takes is a 12 lead EKG procedure which can be performed in minutes to diagnose a heart attack. Sometimes medical professionals can get so focused on certain symptoms that they miss a life threatening heart condition.”
The Women’s Heart Health Program provides cardiac care designed specifically for women. This dedicated clinic focuses on all aspects of cardiology for women, from preventive care to the treatment of complex conditions.
Experts complete a heart assessment that includes taking a complete health history and a cardiovascular risk screening test as well as a family history. The next step is a complete cardiovascular physical exam and then specific information about individual cardiovascular risk factors. Blood tests for lipids and glucose and the calculation of BMI are used to develop an individualized plan for patients to share with their primary care physician. Additional testing may be performed as needed including imaging studies, noninvasive stress testing or even a cardiac catheterization. The team works with nutritionists, tobacco cessation specialists, and other professionals to address key issues and create a healthy life plan.
February is Heart Health Month because heart disease is still the nation’s number one killer. Ennis pointed out that getting treatment quickly at the first signs of problems is critical for lifesaving medications and treatments to work. Women tend to ignore signs. They are so used to putting others first and being the caregivers that they decide to lay down and rest instead of getting proper medical help. Her advice to women: “Be aware and make time to take care of yourself.”
For more information on the program visit http://www.umassmemorialhealthcare.org/umass-memorial-medical-center/services-treatments/heart-and-vascular/services-we-provide/womens-heart-health-program or call 508-334-1000.