Millions of women heading for
menopause are also heading for heart disease -- and many of them have it and
don't know it -- according to the physicians who provide the majority of
health care to them.
America's 115,000 doctors of internal medicine (internists) are launching
a national public education campaign about the number one killer of American
women through their association -- the American College of Physicians -
American Society of Internal Medicine (ACP-ASIM).
"At 50, the approximate age of menopause, most women are more overweight and
more sedentary than men," said Sandra A. Fryhofer, MD, ACP-ASIM president and
Atlanta internist. "And more women than men have high cholesterol -- total
blood cholesterol over 240 -- a major risk factor for heart disease."
She said all three factors -- overweight, inactivity and high cholesterol
-- add up to make millions of American women candidates for heart disease.
"Women live more than one-third of their lives after menopause," she said,
"so if they don't tackle heart disease head-on, they could be setting the
stage for years of disability."
She estimated a million of them already have heart disease when menopause
hits, but -- because symptoms often are silent -- many don't know it.
Fryhofer cited studies showing women are more overweight and more
sedentary than men. Nearly 30 percent of women (compared to 25 percent of
men) ages 30-44 report no participation in leisure-time physical activity,
according to 1992 studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
She also said overweight women have twice the risk for heart disease as
healthy-weight women. An overweight woman has a body mass index between 25
and 29.9, while an obese woman's BMI is 30 and above. For instance, a 5'4"
woman who weighs 145 pounds is considered overweight, while one who weighs 174
is considered obese. Obese women run triple the risk.
One in five women has some form of cardiovascular disease, including heart
disease. "Amazingly, older women who have suffered heart attacks are twice as
likely as men to die from them within a few weeks," she said. "About
42 percent of women who have heart attacks die within one year, compared to
about 27 percent of men."
In its national campaign, the ACP-ASIM is focusing on heart disease and
stroke as common causes of death and disability of adult women. It will
launch full-page ads in national women's magazines this fall, with headlines
"You probably don't want to hear about heart disease and stroke.
But you may want to talk to an Internist about preventing them."
"The good news is heart disease can be diagnosed and treated. Internists
are uniquely qualified to know all the signs and symptoms in women," Fryhofer
said. "That's why we internists are warning America's women."
In addition to heart disease and stroke, ads will focus on two other
postmenopausal health threats -- osteoporosis and cancer.
Fryhofer noted that most women fear cancer more than heart disease,
although studies show cardiovascular disease kills almost twice as many
American women as all cancers combined and more than 11 times as many women as
does breast cancer.