Malissa J. Wood, MD: Improving Women's Cardiovascular Diagnoses and Care

MARCH 18, 2019
Kevin Kunzmann
That heart disease has been the most prominent cause of death in women for some time, and the fact that may come as a surprise to lesser informed patients, is a multitude of factors that perpetuate the issue. What’s needed is campaigns directly focused on educating not just female patients, but family physicians, internists, and gynecologists, to the warning signs and potential harm of heart disease in women.

In an interview with MD Magazine® while at the American College of Cardiology (ACC) 2019 Annual Scientific Session, Malissa J. Wood, MD, co-director of the Corrigan Women’s Heart Health Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, explained her facility’s work in lessening the burden of heart disease in women through multiple disciplines.



MD Mag: How has your department addressed issues in women’s cardiovascular health?

Wood: Though my area of expertise and interest is cardiovascular disease in women, heart disease is the no. 1 killer of women, and there's still what a lack of information out there. So what we've really focused on doing is developing a program that addresses the many difficult-to-treat cardiovascular symptoms, processes, and problems in women. And what we have shown at this meeting is that really doing patient-centric, multidisciplinary care—especially in women with cardiovascular disease—can improve outcomes.

So, we looked at young women who had a condition called spontaneous coronary artery dissection, which is probably the most common cause of a heart attack in young women. And we found that if we manage their stress, vascular health, blood pressure, and if we give them advice about medications they should take, and educate them about their condition, they actually do better. And we saw a lower risk of that condition recurring than if they were just followed in a standard fashion without very personalized care.

What specific issues are most prevalent in detecting cardiovascular events in women?

In women, there was—for a very long time—a lack of awareness. But we know that women still are most commonly going to present with chest pain. So when even a young woman experiences chest pain or something that she's never felt before, she needs to get it checked out.

Another area that I spoke about at this meeting was particularly spontaneous coronary artery dissection as the most common cause of heart attack during pregnancy. And we really want to educate family physicians, internal medicine doctors ,and especially obstetrician gynecologists that young women certainly are at risk, and can have heart attacks complicating pregnancy.

Although it occurs for a reason that's different from a standard heart attack, it's something that they need to watch out for. And when a young woman experiences chest pain in association with pregnancy or during the postpartum state, it really needs to be taken seriously, and it needs to be evaluated.

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