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Southern Arizona VA Health Care System
SAVAHCS Promotes Heart Health for Women Veterans
Friday, February 5, 2016TUCSON, AZ- With 30 years of Nursing in the VA, Nurse Practitioner in Cardiology Mary K. Pierce has been working in cardiology in various roles since 1988. She has worked in a variety of clinical settings during her time in cardiology, and as a nurse practitioner she has worked in out-patient settings in the cardiology clinic at the Southern Arizona VA Health Care Clinic (SAVACHS) Tucson VA Medical Center.
She now runs a cardiology clinic, the first in the VA, solely dedicated to Women Veterans in the Women’s Clinic at the Tucson VA. She brings a wealth of experience into the new clinic to better help women Veterans understand the importance maintaining a heart healthy lifestyle and understanding how heart disease affects women Veterans.
“Here at the VA I see a full spectrum. I see some young women coming right out of the service with either, high risk factors or other cardiac related problems, all the way up the age spectrum to older women with established heart disease,” said Pierce.
According to Pierce, there has been a big movement within the American Heart Association to do a better job in screening women for cardiovascular disease before they become sick. This has changed the cardiology practice to do more specialized testing and screening for women.
“Women in general present with symptoms later in life than men in regard to heart disease,” said Pierce. “Their symptoms are sometimes different, and they don’t present with the typical chest pain that men usually present with.”
Women can often have atypical symptoms, such as extreme fatigued or shortness of breath that may be a sign that they are having heart disease or heart problems.
“Classically heart attacks are a result of blockages in larger arteries, but women may have more disease in smaller vessels in the heart, and it is not easily detected in imaging techniques,” said Pierce. “They may have chest pain, and all of the routine cardiac test findings are negative. They may have disease in the smaller vessels in the heart that the current imaging techniques may not be picking up.”
Pierce stated there is a lot of ongoing research how to do better screenings and more appropriate imaging studies for women with cardiovascular issues.
She encourages the younger Veterans she serves to lead heart healthy lifestyles. She educates them on issues that may be contributing to cardiovascular issues and shows them what the VA offers to help in leading healthier life style.
“Prevention, prevention, prevention is by far the best thing you can do, a healthy life style, healthy diet, exercise, blood pressure management. If we could catch more of the population early on and encourage healthy lifestyle changes, we can make great strides in preventing worse cardiovascular disease later down the road,” said Pierce.
Pierce emphasizes that more women in the U.S. die of cardiovascular disease that all other forms of cancer combined, and heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. Women are catching up with men with cardiovascular deaths.
The Tucson VA offers several programs to help all Veterans achieve a heart healthy lifestyle, such as MOVE Weight Management Program, smoking cessation and Healthy Living classes.
For more information on how to lead a heart healthy lifestyle, Veterans can talk to their primary care providers for information on all of the classes offered at the Tucson VA.