Celebrating Women and their Heart Health

Duke to bring awareness to women and heart disease at “Pretty Party in Red” event

Dr. Melissa Daubert, a Duke cardiologist who specializes in women’s cardiovascular health, is speaking at the Feb. 6 “Pretty Party in Red” event about heart disease trends involving women. Photo by April Dudash
Dr. Melissa Daubert, a Duke cardiologist who specializes in women’s cardiovascular health, is speaking at the Feb. 6 “Pretty Party in Red” event about heart disease trends involving women. Photo by April Dudash

Cris Montalvo was in her movie theater seat, about to watch Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on opening day, when her left arm started going numb. Soon, her vision blurred, and she had trouble forming words. After going to the hospital, thinking it was an allergic reaction to lunch, she was diagnosed 12 hours later with having two strokes. She was 23 years old, and there was no history of stroke in her family. “I always say this is the best and worst day of my life,” said Montalvo, now 34, who changed careers after her stroke to become a speech-language pathologist at Duke Regional Hospital. “When you think of stroke, you think of your grandparents or being in a hospital with an older person. Since I had my stroke, I’ve realized how many more young people are affected not only by stroke but medical problems that we don’t even think about.”On Feb. 6, as part of American Heart Month, Montalvo will be one of many female stroke and heart disease survivors sharing stories at “Pretty Party in Red,” which is organized by the Duke Heart Center. The event, geared toward women, encourages attendees to wear red and participate in a health fair with screenings, games and door prizes, Zumba, cooking demonstrations, as well as enjoy a heart-healthy dinner salad and dark chocolate dessert, and more. “Pretty Party in Red” will be 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Feb. 6 in the Searle Center. Tickets are $10 for Duke employees who show their DukeCard ID at the event; $15 for regular tickets. Registration is required to attend.   Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and responsible for about one death per minute, according to the American Heart Association. Many women are unaware of the symptoms of heart disease or may attribute symptoms to other health issues.Working@Duke talked with Dr. Melissa Daubert, a Duke cardiologist who specializes in women’s cardiovascular health, about recent heart disease trends in women and the opening of the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Clinic at Duke. She will be a guest speaker at the “Pretty Party in Red.”How has the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease in women changed over the past few years?Daubert: Substantial progress has been made in the awareness, treatment and prevention of heart disease over the last decade, but despite these improvements, heart disease is still the No. 1 cause of death among women in the United States. In particular, the rate of heart attacks among women, particularly those younger than 55 years old, has not been decreasing at the same rate as men of a similar age. There are multiple reasons for this, some of which include poor risk factor control, the rising obesity epidemic, and under-recognition of signs and symptoms of heart disease among women and their healthcare providers.  What does a heart-healthy lifestyle look like?Daubert: A heart-healthy lifestyle incorporates multiple elements, including exercise. It is recommended that women engage in two and a half hours of moderate exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. And then there’s diet. When I talk to my patients, I talk about cardiovascular nutrition. That’s a lot of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and increasing your water intake. Additionally, conditions that can predispose women to heart disease should be well controlled. These include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Lastly, if women smoke, it is strongly encouraged that they quit.Tell us more about Duke’s plans for bringing awareness to women’s cardiovascular care.Daubert: Duke is committed to improving the treatment of heart disease in women.  To this end, we are proud to announce the opening of the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Clinic at Duke next month to coincide with Heart Month. This clinic will be dedicated to expanding specialized cardiac care for women by optimizing prevention efforts and individualizing treatment plans. Through this clinic, we hope to prevent heart disease in women at risk or if women have already had a cardiac event, then we want to ensure that we do everything necessary to help them prevent another episode. Additionally, we will also focus on gender-specific research and education. I’d like to think that having this type of clinic, having this type of specialized care, will result in better outcomes for women in the Durham community.