Texas Health Dallas Launches Heart and Vascular Screening Program
02/01/2010

DALLAS — When Mary Gill went to bed that night, nothing about the Dallas resident would have made anyone think heart disease — not even Mary. She was thin and 42 years old. She exercised regularly, ate a healthy diet and never smoked.

Mary Gill
Mary Gill takes medications and follows a heart healthy lifestyle in an effort to prevent future heart attacks.

It was the perfect recipe for turning a young mom into a tragic statistic.

“Heart disease never crossed my mind,” she said. “Even when I woke up that night with an upset stomach, I wasn’t thinking heart attack.”

Then pain shot through her shoulder blades, and she started hyperventilating. She knew something was seriously wrong. Within minutes she was in the emergency department at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. She underwent emergency angioplasty to open blockages in her cardiac arteries and restore blood flow to her heart.

She eventually completed three months of cardiac rehabilitation and was given a clean bill of health. Today, she takes medications and follows a heart healthy lifestyle in an effort to prevent future heart attacks.

Gill thankfully did not become one of the tragic statistics. But every year, more than 430,000 women aren’t so lucky, according to the American Heart Association. They die from heart attacks, congestive heart failure and other forms of cardiovascular disease. Since 1984, the number of cardiovascular disease-related deaths among women in the United States has exceeded those of men. More than one in three female adults has some form of cardiovascular disease.

To better spot cardiovascular disease in North Texans like Gill — before potentially fatal heart attacks or other complications — Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas has launched a new Heart & Vascular Wellness Program for women.

Babies born during February were given red caps  to raise awareness about heart disease and how it strikes people of all ages, including children and young mothers.
Babies born during February were given red caps to raise awareness about heart disease and how it strikes people of all ages, including children and young mothers.

“These stories are more common than many people think,” said nurse practitioner Sharon Hillgartner, who manages the new screening and wellness program at Texas Health Dallas. “What’s more troubling is that according to studies conducted as late as 2005, fewer than 10 percent of primary care physicians were aware of the seriousness and prevalence of female heart disease.”

The signs and symptoms of female heart disease may be dramatically different from classic symptoms of heart attack typically seen in men, said Dr. Khanh Hoang, a cardiologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Dallas and co-medical director of the hospital’s Heart & Vascular Wellness Program.

“Women with heart disease may experience symptoms which are more vague, such as indigestion, or sudden fatigue and weakness," Hoang said. “Since these are things many people experience, it’s difficult to immediately spot the heart attack. And when you factor in a lack of awareness about female heart attacks and heart disease, you’re talking about a real problem.”

In a recent study by the National Institutes of health, 95 percent of women who had suffered heart attacks said they experienced symptoms a month or more before experiencing their heart attack. The symptoms most commonly reported were unusual fatigue, sleep disturbance, and shortness of breath. Additionally, fewer than 30 percent reported having chest pain or discomfort immediately prior to the heart attack, and 43 percent reported having no chest pain at all — even during the heart attack.

“But many doctors still consider chest pain the most common heart attack symptom in both women and men,” said Dr. Tulika Jain, a cardiologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Dallas and co-medical director of the heart and vascular screening program. “That’s why the mission to raise awareness about female heart disease is so important. Spotting it early allows us to more effectively treat the condition.”

Among the potentially deadly conditions associated with cardiovascular disease, peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is a serious health risk which may lead to limb loss, stroke, heart attack and sudden death, and most people are unaware they even have it until it’s too late.

The screening program at Texas Health Dallas will provide patients with simple, painless heart risk and vascular screenings. Vascular screenings are offered the first and third Thursday of each month and include:

  • Carotid ultrasound
  • Aortic ultrasound
  • PAD screenings
  • Discussions with a medical provider on risk reduction

Heart risk screenings include:

  • Detailed heart health history
  • EKG and ABI (lower-extremity Doppler test)
  • Blood pressure check
  • HbA1C and C-reactive protein blood test
  • Cholesterol and diabetes screenings
  • Discussions with a medical provider

The nurse practitioner obtains full medical histories and provides a full nutritional, physical activity, and lifestyle modification evaluation. The program also includes a couple’s day when husbands and wives can visit together and get screenings.

“We’re bringing these tests together under one roof, with clinicians who know about the risks and prevalence of this devastating disease,” said Dr. John Harper, a cardiologist on the hospital’s medical staff and medical director of the hospital’s Heart Failure Unit. “We’re also trying to educate the community about this health risk. With this two-pronged attack, we hope to improve the lives of people in our community.”

The Heart and Vascular Wellness Program at Texas Health Dallas is located in the Margot Perot Center, Suite 330. For more information, call 214-345-2680.

About Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas is an 866-bed acute care hospital and recognized clinical program leader, having provided compassionate care to the residents of Dallas and surrounding communities since 1966. U.S. News and World Report has ranked Texas Health Dallas among the nation’s best hospitals in digestive disorders, orthopedics, and neurology and neurosurgery. An affiliate of the faith-based, nonprofit Texas Health Resources system, Texas Health Dallas has approximately 4,000 employees and an active medical staff of more than 1,000 physicians. For more information, call 1-877-THR-WELL, or visit TexasHealth.org/Dallas.