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Lowin lecture highlights women's cardiovascular health

May 20, 2015

The Siegfried Lowin Visiting Scholar Lecture Series is designed to bring the profession’s best and brightest minds to share their knowledge at the East Carolina University College of Nursing. The 2015 edition of the series lived up to its billing with a presentation by Dr. Jean McSweeney.

Lowin lecture 2015
McSweeney, center, with ECU CON Associate Dean for Research
Dr. Patricia Crane, left, and Brown, right.

McSweeney, the interim dean and associate dean for research at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Nursing, is an expert on assessing risk factors for heart disease in women. The past  president of the Southern Nursing Research Society has received more than $5 million in research funding during her career, consistently publishes in nursing’s top journals, and has sat on councils such as one that advises the director of the National Institutes of Health.

Her Lowin Lecture presentation highlighted the importance of including women in heart disease research and raising awareness about heart disease, the leading cause of death for women worldwide.

“Women do tend to develop it a little bit later in life than men, but we still tend to think of this as a male disease,” she said.

One reason for that, she said, was because the significant early research on the topic focused on men. Basic scientists looking to control variables in clinical trials left women out of studies because of their fluctuating hormone levels, which could impact the disease process as well as symptoms.

Today, research is more balanced to include women, and there have been declines in the rate of disease in women. There is, however, still room for improvement, McSweeney said. For example, the disease rate for those their 30s and 40s and especially minorities is still increasing.

“We have got to do a better job of getting the message out,” she said, explaining that many people inaccurately think breast cancer is the number one cause of death for women.

If women don’t think they’re at risk for heart disease, they won’t pay attention to messages about heart disease, won’t take necessary prevention measures and won’t know when to get treatment. Nor will they be aware of the risk factors related to heart disease, which McSweeney discussed in detail: being overweight, especially with increased abdominal fat; having diabetes or hypertension; being a smoker or physically inactive; and even having reduced amounts of sleep.

Individuals can reduce their risk by changing health behaviors — doing things like being more physically active or quitting smoking. Seventy-eight percent of all adults alive in the U.S today are candidates for at least one risk factor modification, McSweeney said.

“We need to change our focus to early prevention rather than treatment or secondary prevention,” she said. “Remember, it’s the leading cause of female deaths and we have to change our focus.”

The 2015 Siegfried Lowin Visiting Scholar Lecture Series took place on Tuesday, April 21The series began in 2007 through the generosity of ECU faculty members Dr. Mary Ann Rose, professor of nursing, and Dr. Walter Pories, professor of surgery and biochemistry. The couple named the series in memory of Pories' uncle, a World War II veteran who greatly respected the nurses who cared for him throughout an extended illness.

“He said if you really want something done, or you want somebody to take care of you, you ask your nurse,” Rose said. “We established this lectureship in the memory of the man who loved his nurses.” 

Dr. Sylvia Brown, dean of the ECU College of Nursing, said that gifts like the one that Rose and Pories made benefit the college in many ways.

“The College of Nursing is so fortunate to have generous gifts such as this to support bringing nationally recognized scholars to our campus to enrich our intellectual and research endeavors,” she said.