A new UAB Women's Heart Health Clinic has opened at The Kirklin Clinic to address the concerns of women who face cardiac issues. Directed by UAB Cardiologist Salpy Pamboukian, MD, MSPH, the clinic will evaluate and manage women with an array of cardiac issues, while attending to treatment specifics that are more germane to women.
According to the American Heart Association, only one in five women believe that heart disease is their greatest health threat. "Despite the fact there is plenty of public information about heart disease, many women are not receiving the message that heart disease is still the number one cause of death in the U.S.," Pamboukian says. "A lot of women put off getting the kind of medical care they need. I also believe that there is still a lack of understanding in the medical community of how heart disease can affect women. Whatever the reason, delays in diagnosis give the disease time to advance."
Pamboukian says that while the management of heart disease is similar for men and women, women are different with the presentation of symptoms. "Women tend to present with more atypical symptoms, rather the usual symptoms of heart disease," she says. "Most physicians read about these differences, but I think we can still tend to forget this at times when we evaluate a female patient.
"We want our clinic to be the entry point for women who need our services. Based on what we find in the initial consultation, we will direct the patient to the appropriate testing. If the patient is diagnosed with a heart issue, we will take the next step for treatment."
The concept of a women's heart clinic was something Pamboukian had been contemplating when a patient, who was the illustration for the women's heart clinic, was referred to her. The 40-year-old woman, active in her community, had been having symptoms for more than a year and had been seen by numerous physicians without even a basic cardiac evaluation. "After about six months, a physician diagnosed her with congestive heart failure and she came to me for a second opinion," Pamboukian says.
"We worked on her medications and within a couple of months, she saw tremendous improvement and was able to resume her activities. That drove home the point that someone like her might not receive the health care she needs when all it took was standard medicines to improve her condition," she says. "The key was making the diagnosis so that you know what you are treating. This clinic is needed so we can reach out to help people like her."
Pamboukian points out that the clinic is a collaborative effort among female physicians who specialize in cardiac treatment. "Because women have unique risk factors and symptoms, they may need heart care designed to address their specific needs. We want women to come here so they can get specialized help. Our team includes hypertension specialist Suzanne Oparil, MD; advanced heart failure specialist Indranee Rajapreyar, MD; interventional cardiologist Brigitta Brott, MD; and nurse practitioner Sondra Curry, CRNP," she says. "We will work as a team, and patients will see these providers in our clinic."
The clinic will take referrals from outside Birmingham to ensure women can get the care they need if services are not available in their area. "This clinic is something UAB has never had, and it joins the other specialty services that UAB provides," Pamboukian says. "I think the time is right for a clinic like this in our area."