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Creating HAPPY Hearts in Chelsea and Revere
MGH program aims to improve women's heart health in Boston communities

BOSTON - March 5, 2008 - As the number one killer of American women, heart disease is an important health issue all women should address. However, Malissa Wood, MD, a cardiologist with the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center, noticed that low-income women in many Boston neighborhoods were not armed with the tools necessary to stop this preventable disease. In conjunction with MGH-Community Health Associates Wellness Center, Wood last month launched the HAPPY Heart program to improve the heart health of women served by the MGH-Revere and Chelsea HealthCare Centers.

Heart Awareness and Primary Prevention in Your Neighborhood (HAPPY Heart) aims to develop an approach to preventing cardiovascular disease for low-income women that includes screenings and aggressive primary prevention techniques, such as exercise, smoking cessation and stress reduction.

"Many of the traditional cardiovascular risk factors, including obesity, hypertension, smoking and diabetes tend to be more prevalent among low-income women," says Wood, who is also a physician with MGH's Corrigan Women's Heart Health Program. "While cardiovascular disease is largely preventable, women with limited resources are much less likely to receive and practice primary prevention." The Corrigan Program celebrated its one-year anniversary in February 2008.

Women between the ages of 40 to 60 who have two or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease are eligible for inclusion in the program and study. The household income of participants is also no greater than 200 percent above the poverty level. Once in the program, the women will undergo a number of screening procedures and work with a health coach to identify ways to address their risk factors.

Interventional techniques to help these women achieve healthier lifestyles include blood pressure and cholesterol screenings and treatment, nutrition counseling, physical activity and smoking cessation programs. Women will also be offered stress reductions classes in yoga, tai chi, relaxation response, and individual and group support for anxiety and depression.

"Numerous barriers exist in the lives of low-income women that can impede success of a lifestyle risk reduction program. These barriers include financial limitations, need for childcare, transportation, access to safe exercise areas, as well as increased stress and depression in their lives," says Wood. "One of the unique features of HAPPY Heart is the integrated and individual approach. The potential barriers will be identified up front and solutions to these barriers will be proposed. The pairing of each woman with a health coach will hopefully increase the likelihood of long-term behaviors changes and success."

At the end of the two-year program, which is funded through a private grant, Wood hopes each patient will see improvement in her cholesterol, stress, anxiety and endurance levels. The study's result should also help doctors better understand how heart functions change with education and determine the best methods for helping low-income women prevent and reduce their risk of heart disease.

Founded in 1811, the MGH is the third oldest general hospital in the United States and the oldest and largest in New England. The 900-bed medical center offers sophisticated diagnostic and therapeutic care in virtually every specialty and subspecialty of medicine and surgery. Each year the MGH admits more than 46,000 inpatients and handles nearly 1.5 million outpatient visits at its main campus and health centers. Its Emergency Department records nearly 80,000 visits annually. The surgical staff performs more than 35,000 operations and the MGH Vincent Obstetrics Service delivers more than 3,500 babies each year. The MGH conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the country, with an annual research budget of more than $500 million. It is the oldest and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, where nearly all MGH staff physicians serve on the faculty. The MGH is consistently ranked among the nation's top hospitals by US News and World Report.

Media Contacts: Jennifer Gundersen, MGH Public Affairs

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