Heart disease is the leading cause of death for all women in the U.S., but only about half of women know this is so.
This is something UC Davis Health cardiologist Amparo Villablanca is working to improve each year with the Women’s Heart Care Forum for Community Leaders. The annual event capsulizes what women need to know to recognize and reduce their risks of heart disease, along with ways to share that information in their families and community networks.
This year’s forum — held February 1 on National Wear Red Day® — also celebrated a major milestone: the 25th anniversary of the Women’s Cardiovascular Medicine Program. Launched by Villablanca in 1994, it was the first program in the nation dedicated to women’s heart health.
Expert presentations, hands-on learning and congressional recognition
Villablanca shared progress over the past 25 years and promising research that could bring that success to new levels. Her colleague, cardiologist Martin Cadeiras, highlighted heart failure in women and ways to prevent it. And LeShelle May, wife of UC Davis Chancellor Gary May, led a panel discussion on outreach models that successfully empower heart-healthy communities.
The more than 250 participants of diverse ages, races and ethnicities also engaged in interactive learning stations such as CPR, enjoyed a heart-healthy lunch and were the first to see the newest additions to the UC Davis Red Dress Collection.
A special presentation from a representative of Congresswoman Doris Matsui noted that recognition for Villablanca's program and forum had been entered into the Congressional Record that day and read, in part, "The program's exceptional commitment to women's heart health has empowered women by providing knowledge of how to decrease their risk factors for heart disease and pursue healthier lifestyles. ...I ask all my colleagues to join me in honoring the UC Davis Women's Cardiovascular Medicine Program for their years of service dedicated to advancing women's heart health."
25 years of female-focused heart care, education, outreach and research
Villablanca started her program to raise awareness of heart disease and ways to prevent it among all women.
“It is important for women of all ages to understand that heart disease isn’t just a ‘man’s disease’ but that it is their leading health threat too,” Villablanca said. “Heart disease begins well before symptoms become apparent, so adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle early in life is key.”
She also wanted to offer state-of-the-art, comprehensive heart care for women, conduct research to better understand sex differences in heart disease, test new models for prevention and engage women in becoming ambassadors of heart care.
What she and her colleagues throughout the U.S. have done since is noteworthy. Today, about 52 percent of women know that heart disease is their leading health threat. Two decades ago, that number was only 17 percent. Because of the greater awareness and advances in care, many women are actively controlling their risks and fewer women are dying of heart disease, according to Villablanca.
“We have come a long way, but there are still many gaps in knowledge,” Villablanca said. “We need to continue educating women and their health professionals, inspiring more physicians to become women's heart-health specialists and attracting additional funding for gender-based research.”
The forum is funded by private philanthropy and the Women’s Cardiovascular Medicine Program. More information about heart-disease prevention for women is at womenshearthealth.ucdavis.edu.