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Project educates women on heart attack symptoms

SYRACUSE, N.Y.-- Heart attacks in women go largely unrecognized 30 to 55 percent of the time and those who miss the warning signs and fail or delay getting help, run the risk of death or severe disability. But researchers at two SUNY institutions, Upstate Medical University and Binghamton University, have developed an educational program they believe will shorten the time to treatment and ultimately, save lives.

Women often don’t have the same kind of chest pains that men generally experience during a heart attack. They may also have a range of other symptoms, not all of them easy for the typical sufferer to identify and so in many cases, they tend to just ignore the warning signs.

In hopes of shortening women’s time to treatment, Melanie Kalman, PhD, associate professor and director of research, and Margaret Wells, PhD, assistant professor, in Upstate’s College of Nursing, and Pamela Stewart Fahs, DSN, professor and Decker Chair in Rural Nursing at Binghamton University’s Decker School of Nursing, are collaborating on a project called “Matters of Your Heart.” The goal is to develop a program to educate women about heart attack symptoms and also to teach about the early warning signs that a heart attack might be on the way.

Kalman, Wells and Stewart Fahs conducted the first phase of their project under an intramural research grant from Upstate. They first created a questionnaire to measure a woman’s understanding of heart attack symptoms and warning signs. They then created a pilot version of an educational presentation.

Working with 141 post-menopausal women, Kalman and Stewart Fahs held small-group sessions to administer the questionnaire, present the program and then give the questionnaire again. They found that the educational program increased the women’s knowledge of heart disease.

The researchers based the presentation in part on a program that Stewart Fahs developed several years ago to teach rural residents about symptoms of a stroke. That program employed an acronym created by the American Heart Association.

The new program uses a mnemonic device, much like the American Heart Association’s use of FAST (Face, Arm, Speech and Time).

For example, researchers are testing the acronym CURB, (Chest pain, Unusual fatigue, Radiating pain, Breathing difficulties) to see how it can help women understand heart attack symptoms.

But they are especially concerned about educating woman about the early warning signs of a heart attack. In this instance, researchers are hoping the acronym FACTSS (Fatigue, Anxiety, Chest discomfort, Tummy pain, Shortness of breath, Sleeping difficulties) does the trick.

“Acronyms can be useful as means to retain information,” said Kalman “In health education, we’ve seen this work to describe the warning signs of stroke.’