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A Heart Care Team for Women of Every Age

Indu Poornima, M.D.Women are busier than ever today. Work, family, and personal commitments leave women little time to think about their own health. But neglecting your health can have serious consequences. Most women are not aware that they are at risk for developing heart disease, 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 as all forms of cancer combined. Being proactive about the health of your heart can save your life. Women's symptoms may not be classic for a heart attack and can go unrecognized, thereby leading to dire consequences.

At the Allegheny Health Network's Women's Heart Center, they make it easier to stay heart healthy. Their team of experienced cardiovascular specialists provides a wide range of services that address specific heart-related issues women encounter throughout their life span. Indu Poornima, M.D., director of nuclear cardiology at Allegheny General Hospital and director of the Women's Heart Center, says, "Regardless of age or lifestyle, our expert team of women's heart care specialists is ready to meet your unique needs." Board-certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine in Cardiovascular Disease, Dr. Poornima received her medical degree from Stanley Medical College in India, followed by her residency at Wayne State University Health Center in Detroit, Michigan, and fellowships at both Medical College of Wisconsin and Mayo School of Graduate Medical Education in Rochester, Minnesota.

Contraceptives and Heart Health
While birth control pills and the birth control patch are generally safe for young, active women, they can have cardiovascular risks for women over the age of 35, particularly women with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or who smoke. At every stage of a woman's life, smoking is the single most important preventable risk factor. Young women with cardiovascular conditions or risk factors should be assessed prior to initiation of oral contraceptives to assess their risk.

Pregnancy and Heart Health
If you have a heart condition and are considering pregnancy, you will need special care. The Women's Heart Center offers a variety of services to help pregnant women avoid complications and deliver a healthy baby. Pregnancy-related heart conditions include:

Heart Murmurs
Most of the time, a heart murmur (caused by extra blood flowing through the heart) is a harmless condition. However, in rare cases, a new murmur can indicate a problem with a heart valve. Your physician can determine the cause of a heart murmur and decide if treatment is necessary

Arrhythmias
During pregnancy, a woman with a normal heart can develop an arrhythmia, a fast or slow heartbeat that may be regular or irregular. This may be a temporary condition related to pregnancy or the result of a previously undiagnosed heart condition. If your physician decides that further examination is necessary, the experts at the Women's Heart Center will perform tests to better understand your heart rhythm and determine if treatment is needed.

High Blood Pressure
If you have rapid weight gain, swollen ankles, and protein in your urine, you may be experiencing a form of high blood pressure called preeclampsia. This condition can cause premature birth and lead to a life-threatening condition called eclampsia. Dr. Poornima says, "We will work with your physician to monitor your high blood pressure and determine which form of treatment is most appropriate for you."

Chest Pain
Chest pain – before, during, or after pregnancy – can be the sign of something serious, such as a blood clot or a tear in the arteries supporting the heart muscle. These conditions require urgent attention and can be fatal if not identified in a timely manner. The physicians at the Women's Heart Center will address the cause of your chest pain and begin prompt treatment.

Heart Failure
Although uncommon, a sudden onset of shortness of breath in the last few months of pregnancy – or in the first weeks after delivery – can be the sign of peripartum cardiomyopathy. This condition results from a sudden onset of weakness of the heart muscle that seems to be related to the pregnancy. While the exact cause is still unclear, it can be completely reversed if detected and treated early.

Menopause and Heart Health
Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) can help with some symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, and bone loss. But there are also risks. "For some women, taking hormones can increase their chances of having a heart attack or stroke," says Dr. Poornima. "However others may benefit from short-term treatment to help with their menopausal symptoms and yet be safe from the cardiovascular standpoint. At the Women's Heart Center, we assist the gynecologists in ensuring that hormone replacement therapy is safe by assessing the risks and benefits for each individual woman."."

The rates of heart attacks and stroke in women increase with the onset of menopause in close relation to onset of high blood pressure and changing levels of lipids. It is critical that women stay well ahead of the game by watching their weight, caloric intake, practice stress reduction and stop smoking to reduce their risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event.

Risk Factors for Heart Disease
A number of factors may put you at risk for heart disease including:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Stress
  • Ethnicity (particularly African-American women)

Women's Heart Center
When you turn to Allegheny Health Network's Women's Heart Center, you are entrusting your heart health to the very best. "Our experienced team of board-certified physicians uses the latest technology and tools to give women a comprehensive, gender-specific action plan for preventing and treating heart disease," comments Dr. Poornima.

They provide a wide range of patient-centered services, including:

  • Overall assessment of cardiovascular risk through a physical, lab work, and non-invasive testing
  • Treatment tailored to individual risk assessment
  • Dietary counseling
  • Physical activity prescription
  • Mental stress reduction

"If more advanced treatment in the areas of congestive heart failure, pulmonary hypertension and electrophysiology are necessary, we will refer you to one of AHN's subspecialists," adds Dr. Poornima. The Women's Heart Center also makes other related referrals to endocrinologists, psychiatrists, and vascular specialists

For your convenience, consultations are offered at a variety of community-based locations, including Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, Wexford Health and Wellness Pavilion, AGH McCandless on McKnight Road, Canonsburg Hospital in Washington County, and Peters Township in the South Hills. For more information or to make an appointment, call 1-877-97-HEART(43278).

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