HOW PREPARED ARE WE AGAINST HEART ATTACKS? By Sean Henahan
INTERVIEW OF Dr. Rose Marie Robertson, former president of the American Heart Association and director for the Women's Heart Health Institute at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Q: What is the status of the battle against cardiovascular disease, how are we doing?
A: Oddly enough, the trends are moving in two directions at once. Some 60 million people in the US have heart disease, including hypertension, stroke and coronary artery disease. As the population ages there are more people who have heart disease. However, the death rates from many forms of heart diseases are actually falling. We have become much better at treating patients who have had a heart attack, in some cases stopping a heart attack in its tracks. We have gotten better at treating people with heart rhythm problems, or heart failure. So we can give people many more years of high quality life even though they have heart disease. Also, we now know many ways to prevent heart disease.
Q: How are we doing in terms of improving diagnosis and screening for ethnic minorities, poorer populations, and women?
A: We are not doing as well there. Heart disease is a big problem for women, and it is a problem they don't recognize. In fact if you look at mortality rates from heart disease in this country, almost all of the benefit is seen in men. For example, the number of men dying each year from heart attacks has been steadily decreasing each year since 1979. Over that same time period, the number of fatal heart attacks among women has gone up. Since 1979, every year but one, more women have died from heart attacks than men. Most women don't realize the risks of heart disease. When we survey women, the great majority fear and worry about breast cancer or cervical cancer. We've done a good job of encouraging screening there. But very few women conceive that heart disease might be a problem. The statistics tell us that 1 in 27 women will die of...