Doctor Says ‘Vague’ Can be Deadly for Women

Written by on December 5, 2011 in Research & Technology - 1 Comment
Dr. Campbell procedure

By Paul V. Brown Jr.

Nearly 500,000 American women die of cardiovascular disease every year, the equivalent of one every minute of the day. Today, eight million women in the U.S. are living with heart disease. Since 1984, the number of female deaths from cardiovascular disease has exceeded that of males. Studies show that women are underdiagnosed and undertreated for coronary artery disease (CAD), which can lead to sudden cardiac death (SCD).

Those tough statistics are part of a message that Kevin R. Campbell, a North Carolina cardiologist, tries to deliver regularly to fellow physicians across the nation at symposia that he presents, typically to a roomful of internists or fellow cardiologists.

Recently, he’s started going outside the conventional referral doctors, presenting his data to OB-GYNs.

“The thought is that OB-GYN physicians are the primary care doctors for many women,” Campbell said recently. “They (OB-GYNs) are the ones who must screen and refer at-risk women for evaluation for SCD and CAD. So I began teaching OB-GYNs how to screen patients quickly and to recognize warning signs.”

Those warning signs can differ drastically in women and men. Americans commonly are told to watch for chest pains, shortness of breath or pain radiating down the arm. But women also exhibit vague symptoms, such as anxiety or feelings of dread, Campbell tells his colleagues. Those symptoms must be taken seriously.

Campbell takes them seriously − and became active in women’s cardiac health − partly for personal reasons. His 11-year-old daughter, Rebecca, was diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes at the age of 5. That puts her at risk for cardiac disease when she grows up. “It motivated me to make sure someone is there to treat my daughter,” he said in a recent interview.

Certified in cardiac electrophysiology – the diagnosis and treatment of electrical activities in the heart – Campbell also has professional reasons for his interest. He was part of a 2005-2007 study involving more than 13,000 patients at 217 hospitals that found that women and minorities were undertreated for cardiac disease and underserved in receiving implanted defibrillators. Such findings indicate that doctors should be screening women more aggressively for coronary artery disease.

That is beginning to happen, he said.

As is the case with most medical issues, the best way to address sudden cardiac death is prevention. Campbell said women need to manage risk factors and modify their lifestyles through such simple actions as better diet and exercise.

If she is deemed at high risk, an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD, is the best available treatment, Campbell said. A regular part of his day is implanting the device in patients of both genders.

Campbell’s educational work is gaining wider recognition. This fall, for instance, he presented four programs in Los Angeles, including one for OB-GYNs at the request of Dr. John Kennedy. A fellow cardiologist, Kennedy is a consultant for the television show “The Doctors” and has appeared on that show and “Dr. Oz,” another popular health and medicine show. Campbell may be featured soon in separate national shows. Early next year, he has symposia scheduled in Phoenix, San Diego and Seattle.

Campbell practices at WHV-Wake Heart & Vascular, a decades-old cardiology practice based in Raleigh, N.C. The practice itself does pioneering work. One of its founders was among the first doctors in the nation to do cardiac catheterizations through a blood vessel in the wrist, a procedure called transradial access. Widely performed in Europe and Asia because it causes fewer medical complications, transradial is now gaining ground in the United States.

St. Jude Medical, a Saint Paul, Minn.-based company that makes cardiac, neurological and chronic pain treatment devices, lauds Campbell’s work with OB-GYNs and beyond.

“In addition to his efforts to provide hundreds of physicians with insights into risk factors and treatment options for female patients, Dr. Campbell has been a great partner with St. Jude Medical in developing a program that finds common ground between OB-GYN and cardiology,” said Amy Jo Meyer, a St. Jude spokeswoman. “As women often use an OB-GYN as their primary care physician, increasing awareness and providing simple tools for diagnosis of heart failure or other heart diseases to this group of physicians is an important key to improving women’s cardiac care.”

The best outcome in Campbell’s mind is that the word gets out to more than just the doctors who attend his symposia.

“We have to teach women to empower themselves and work hard with their physician to lower their own risk,” he said.

Paul V. Brown Jr.
spent 30 years as a newspaper writer and editor. He now owns a media relations company and is a freelance journalist.

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