Heart Smart Centre bats for women’s heart health
The volunteers pause for a quick photo op

HEART Smart Centre, located in Montego Bay, had a Go Red campaign in February, Heart Month, dedicated to raising awareness about women’s heart health. The campaign was inspired by Wear Red Day & Go Red for Women, both American Heart Association initiatives.

Research has shown that women do not experience or express heart disease symptoms in the same ways that men do. This has sometimes led to dismissal of symptoms by the patients themselves or the health-care workers who are their first point of contact.

The American Heart Association dedicated a day in February to highlight this and raise awareness about heart disease in women so as to increase its visibility to similar levels comparable to that of breast cancer awareness.

Red dress ambassadors

Heart Smart’s awareness campaign introduced ‘red dress ambassadors’ — four women who have been diagnosed with and are living with heart disease. They shared their heart journey and helped make heart disease and its treatment relatable — from recognising symptoms of heart disease to imparting feelings of hope to those who may have been diagnosed but are fearful to undergo a surgery or a procedure that has been recommended as part of their care programme.

Dionne had a heart attack at 32, after being on treatment for diabetes for six years. Venetta has rheumatic heart disease with a damaged heart valve, and had open heart surgery to change the valve. She spoke about life after open-heart surgery. PJ and Maureen are of similar ages and life stories — abnormal heart rhythm cured with the ablation procedure, not previously available in Jamaica. It’s now been available for the last two years.

Free heart health screening clinic exclusively for women

The main activity for the campaign was engaging the community for heart health screening, exclusively for women. Nearly 100 participants showed up wearing red in support of the day. The team, with the support of volunteer nurses and nursing students from the University of Technology, Jamaica, helped participants complete heart health questionnaires, and screened them for diabetes, hypertension, obesity and high cholesterol — the major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases (heart attack and strokes), and the leading cause of sickness and death in women and men alike.

Twenty-five per cent of the participants had abnormal screens overall, with 20 per cent having newly diagnosed hypertension (high blood pressure), and five per cent being newly diagnosed with diabetes mellitus (sugar). These statistics are in keeping with the findings of the Jamaica Healthy Lifestyles surveys regarding the prevalence of the chronic diseases diabetes and hypertension in our general population. These two chronic conditions are the main causes for the development of cardiovascular disease and are called “silent killers” as persons often do not have any symptoms. This underscores the value of getting regular screenings for people who are apparently healthy.

Participants with these abnormal findings were then led to a secondary screening area. The secondary screening included complimentary ECGs under the kind patronage of Novartis Ltd via Cari-Med Jamaica Ltd. Participants were then given a complimentary mini-consultation with cardiologist Dr Claudine Lewis, who herself has heart disease risk factors and is passionate about highlighting how heart disease behaves differently in women.

Dr Lewis reviewed the completed heart health history and checks of the participants, and provided feedback and guidance for further evaluation and treatment.

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