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VOL. 127 | NO. 86 | Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Girls Night Out Promotes Heart Health for Women

By Aisling Maki

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The Memphis Chapter of the American Heart Association is gearing up for Girls Night Out, a fundraiser for heart health slated for Thursday, May 3, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Hilton Memphis hotel, 939 Ridge Lake Blvd.

Part of the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Campaign, the nearly sold-out event is expected to draw as many as 700 women.

The event will include shopping, makeovers, a manicure booth, a silent auction, cholesterol and blood pressure screenings, and personal trainers offering heart-healthy exercise demonstrations.

The activities will be followed by a heart-healthy meal with wine and hors d’oeuvres, a fashion show with the latest trends modeled by heart disease survivors, and an address from guest speaker Jenna Bush Hager, NBC news correspondent and daughter of former president George W. Bush.

“She’s a big advocate for women’s heart health,” said Tina Dickinson Jones, Girls Night Out event co-chair. “She has a strong family history herself and has been touched by it in her family.”

Jones said Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell are expected to attend the event, whose purpose is to educate women about the prevalence of heart disease and to motivate them to take heart health seriously.

Dr. Dharmesh Patel, cardiologist with the Stern Cardiovascular Center and president of the American Heart Association’s Memphis Chapter, says that while about one in 33 women will die of breast cancer, heart disease will take the lives of one in three women.

“The perception, I think, is very different from reality,” Patel said. “So we’re trying to increase awareness in our community, especially in females, who’ve classically been understudied or not studied at all in trials until recently.”

Many women still believe that heart attacks and strokes only affect men, and women often don’t exhibit the classic heart attack symptoms, such as acute chest pain. They often present more vague symptoms, such as fatigue, loss of energy, shortness of breath and depression.

“It’s getting a lot better,” Jones said. “In the last five to seven years there’s been a lot more focus on the fact that women’s heart disease appears differently than men’s heart disease. We’re getting better evaluation, better treatment, and treatment sooner, before they have a heart attack or stroke.”

Patel said women, especially younger ones, often use their obstetrician-gynecologist as their primary care doctor, and cardiovascular disease “may not be one of the things on the radar in terms of what they’re looking out for.”

Patel says increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes and smoking.

“We’re really at the hotbed of cardiovascular disease, considering that we’re right at the border of Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas,” Patel said. “These are some of the most obese states in the country with some of the highest numbers for cardiovascular death.”

The good news is that these risk factors are largely modifiable through lifestyle changes. Increasingly physical activity – even just short walks – can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Patel also emphasizes eliminating high-fat, high-sodium processed foods from the diet and increasing the intake of fresh produce, whole grains, and heart healthy fats, such as those found in olive oil, avocados and salmon.

He also recommends reducing portion sizes, snacking less, eating dinner earlier, getting adequate sleep, and reducing stress through outlets such as exercise, yoga and mediation.

Jones said the best thing about Girls Night Out is that 100 percent of the proceeds stay in the Memphis area, and funding is allocated toward programs such as community cholesterol and blood pressure screenings and treatment for patients who are uninsured or underinsured.

She said community health clinics such as the Church Health Center route patients through a network of cardiology and internal medicine practices. In her practice alone, Jones said each year she sees anywhere from 250 to 500 patients who are either uninsured or on community health plans such as the Church Health Center’s Memphis Plan.

“We are the epicenter of heart disease in the United States,” she said. “So everything we can raise here is of enormous benefit to our patient population.”

For tickets, e-mail dianna.dawson@heart.org.

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