Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Creating HAPPY hearts in Chelsea and Revere

As the number one killer of American women, heart disease is an important health issue all women should address. However, Malissa Wood, MD, a cardiologist with the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center, noticed that low-income women in many Boston neighborhoods were not armed with the tools necessary to stop this preventable disease.

In conjunction with the Mass General Hospital Community Health Associates Wellness Center, Wood last month launched the HAPPY Heart program in to improve the heart health of women served by the Mass General Hospital Revere and Chelsea HealthCare Centers.

Heart Awareness and Primary Prevention in Your Neighborhood (HAPPY Heart) aims to develop an approach to preventing cardiovascular disease for low-income women that includes screenings and aggressive primary prevention techniques, such as exercise, smoking cessation and stress reduction.

“Many of the traditional cardiovascular risk factors, including obesity, hypertension, smoking and diabetes tend to be more prevalent among low-income women,” says Wood, who is also a physician with MGH’s Corrigan Women’s Heart Health Program. “While cardiovascular disease is largely preventable, women with limited resources are much less likely to receive and practice primary prevention.”

Women between the ages of 40 to 60 who have two or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease are eligible for inclusion in the program and study. The household income of participants is also no greater than 200 percent above the poverty level. Once in the program, the women will undergo a number of screening procedures and work with a health coach to identify ways to address their risk factors.

Interventional techniques to help these women achieve healthier lifestyles include blood pressure and cholesterol screenings and treatment, nutrition counseling, physical activity and smoking cessation programs. Women will also be offered stress reductions classes in yoga, tai chi, relaxation response, and individual and group support for anxiety and depression.

“Numerous barriers exist in the lives of low-income women that can impede success of a lifestyle risk reduction program. These barriers include financial limitations, need for childcare, transportation, access to safe exercise areas, as well as increased stress and depression in their lives,” says Wood.

“One of the unique features of HAPPY Heart is the integrated and individual approach. The potential barriers will be identified up front and solutions to these barriers will be proposed. The pairing of each woman with a health coach will hopefully increase the likelihood of long-term behaviors changes and success.”

At the end of the two-year program, which is funded through a private grant, Wood hopes each patient will see improvement in her cholesterol, stress, anxiety and endurance levels. The study’s result should also help doctors better understand how heart functions change with education and determine the best methods for helping low-income women prevent and reduce their risk of heart disease.

For more information about the study, contact 781-485-6400.

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