Your Heart is a Lady Part

 February is Heart Health month. NPWH Chair Elect and Policy Chair, Diana Drake DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC, and Clinical Associate Professor, shares an update on the state of women’s heart health and resources for clinicians.

Connecting Heart Health and Reproductive Health, a Missed Opportunity

For many practitioners working in ob-gyn practices, you may be the only health care provider a patient sees this year.  But according to a national survey, only 13 percent of women report talking about heart health during their annual ob-gyn visit

That’s a problem, because heart disease is a leading killer of women, taking 400,000 lives in 2016. Contrary to popular belief, women have a higher risk for heart disease than men, because of higher obesity rates, rates of strokes.

The biological changes during pregnancy can also increase heart disease risk. But even in the cases of women with pregnancy complications like preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, 60 percent didn’t discuss heart health with their ob-gyn after pregnancy.

Many providers say they have limited training in assessing women’s risk for heart disease.

It’s time to change.

If we are going to do more to address the major threat that heart disease poses to women, we in the clinical community need to think of the heart as a lady part. 

Our role as a women’s health nurse practitioners is to assess and address needs of the whole woman from head to heart to toe. And good news: 80 percent of cardiovascular diseases may be prevented with education and action.

We have a huge opportunity to do more to educate ourselves and our patients.

In other words, the more we ask, the more lives we save.

8 Ways Clinicians Can Improve Heart Health:

Here are some key ways we can do more to address heart health:

  1. Start Upstream, Prevention is Key

Recommend patients get Well Woman annual visits and follow cardiovascular prevention screening guidelines.

  1. Improve Patient Education and Teach Self-Advocacy

Encourage patients to take charge of their own health. The most important personal action for the patient is to know their numbers: blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and body mass index. Taking action to correct them can be lifesaving.

  1. Recognize Social Stigmas that Prevent Patient Conversation

Social stigma about body weight can keep women from discussing it with their providers, but body weight can have a profound effect on the heart. It’s up to us to ask in a way that will encourage dialogue and get our patients thinking.

  1. Utilize Risk Assessments and Recognize Health Care Disparities

Be aware that young women and ethnic minorities are often assigned a lower cardiovascular risk assessment than is appropriate for their lifelong risk.

  1. Get More Training: Use NPWH Training & Tools in Cardiovascular Assessments

NPWH provides professional continuing education for NPs and other clinicians caring for women. There are over 50 continuing education activities in our online E-Learning portal and these include heart health topics to improve your practice.

Check out the NPWH Well Woman App that includes a Cardiovascular Assessment Tool.

  1. Know the Heart Attack Signs in Women

Symptoms of heart attacks can also present differently in women. The most common heart attack symptom for women is still chest pain or discomfort. But women are more likely to experience some of the other common symptoms, including the following:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that either lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
  1. Know the General Risk Factors for Heart Disease

High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. About half of Americans (49%) have at least one of these three risk factors. Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Poor diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Excessive alcohol use
  1. Advocate for Better Clinical Trials & More Research
  • When it comes to developing a research base, only one-third of heart research subjects are women even though women make up 51 percent of the population. NPWH encourages representation of women in clinical trials to help increase data for accurate clinical decision making that is gender specific.

Our mission is to ensure high quality health care to women by women’s health nurse practitioners and other nurse practitioners who focus on women’s health. And we know that’s your mission, too. We hope you will take advantage of our online resources or join us at our conferences this year!  And we remind you: your patient’s heart is a lady part!

Here are a few more great heart health resources for clinicians and patients:

American Heart Association (AHA)

Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Women’s Heart Health

US Department of Health and Human Services,

Managing hyperlipidemia

2017 hypertension Clinical Practice Guidelines Released

2017 New Stroke Prevention Guidelines (AHA)

Patient Education

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