Spring 2012

Problem solvers: Women, this is not your father’s heart attack

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Pamela Stewart Fahs wants women to listen to their hearts.

The problem: Heart attacks in women go largely unrecognized 30 percent to 55 percent of the time because women experience a range of symptoms that might not include the kind of chest pains that men feel during a heart attack. Those who miss the warning signs and fail or delay getting help run the risk of death or disability.

The researchers:
Pamela Stewart Fahs, professor and Decker Chair in Rural Nursing at Binghamton University’s Decker School of Nursing, in collaboration with Melanie Kalman, associate professor and director of research, and Margaret Wells, assistant professor, in the College of Nursing at SUNY Upstate Medical University.

The research: The researchers have developed an educational program they believe will help women recognize signs of a heart attack, thus shortening the time to treatment and saving lives.

The strategy: The researchers first developed a questionnaire to measure a woman’s knowledge of heart attack symptoms and warning signs. They then created a pilot version of an educational presentation.

Working with 141 post-menopausal women, Stewart Fahs and Kalman administered the questionnaire, presented the program and then gave the questionnaire again.
“We did find that the educational program increased knowledge,” Stewart Fahs says.

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 — FAST, for Face, Arm, Speech and Time.

The new program uses a similar mnemonic device, and Stewart Fahs says the next phase of the project will focus on testing whether using acronyms for female heart attack and warning symptoms improve knowledge as compared to using an educational program without them. The work will begin this spring.

In a second phase of their research, Kalman and Stewart Fahs plan to give the presentation to more women over a broader geographical area. Eventually, they hope to do a longitudinal study.