AHN Launches Campaign Focused on Early Detection of Heart Disease in Western Pennsylvania

Updated on October 16, 2023

Allegheny Health Network (AHN)’s Cardiovascular Institute announced recently the launch of a multi-faceted media and digital campaign, titled “Before,” which encourages early detection of heart disease and awareness of predisposed risk factors across communities throughout western Pennsylvania.

“Although cardiovascular medicine continues to advance thanks to pharmaceutical therapies and surgical interventions, recent data demonstrates that hypertension, obesity and diabetes rates continue to rise across the country and especially in western Pennsylvania,” said Akshay Khandelwal, MD, Chair of the AHN Department of Cardiovascular Medicine. “This thoughtful campaign works to increase awareness of these predisposed risk factors, in addition to a patient’s genetic history, and encourages the scheduling of an annual physical with a primary care physician, or for some patients, a heart check with a cardiologist.”

“Before,” officially launched in market across the region on Monday and uses a strategic variety of digital, billboard and media tactics to increase awareness before cardiac incidences may occur in at-risk populations. The goal is to ultimately encourage patients to visit their respective primary care physicians or cardiologists to complete their annual screenings or discuss problems of concern, especially those who may have neglected visits during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The campaign comes on the heels of a recently published Journal of the American Medical Association study (doi:10.1001/jama.2023.2307), which analyzed the health of nearly 13,000 adults – with a median age of 31 years old – across the country over the course of a decade.

During that period, physicians from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston observed a notable rise in hypertension and significant increases in diabetes and obesity rates, without improvement in control of blood pressure or blood sugar.

The proportion of very young people having a heart attack has also been increasing annually over the last decade, according to data presented to the American College of Cardiology. That report also found that among patients who suffer a heart attack at a young age – defined as under the age of 50 – about 1 in 5 is younger than 40 years old. 

“Although the rate of heart attacks in this country has plateaued due to innovations in preventive cardiovascular care, it’s important to note that the incidence of cardiovascular disease including premature heart attacks and heart failure is increasing in younger age groups due to the high burden of risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity,” said Indu Poornima, MD,cardiologist and medical director of Nuclear Cardiology and Director of Preventive Cardiology and Women’s Heart Center at AHN. “That’s why prevention and early detection is so important, especially if your family has a history of cardiovascular disease.”

Symptoms most closely associated with heart disease include chest pain, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, and dizziness, although some symptoms may be unique to each individual and not initially indicate a heart condition, according to Dr. Poornima. 

Young Black, Hispanic, and Mexican Americans have been shown to have the highest and fastest-growing cardiovascular risk burdens.

“Black Americans are more likely to develop high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes in their lifetimes compared to white populations,” said Margaret Larkins-Pettigrew, MD, senior vice president and chief clinical Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer at Allegheny Health Network. “The reasons behind those disparities are multi-faceted, but center around the social determinants of health – the economic and social conditions that influence individual and group health outcomes. As a health system, it’s imperative that we invest in our communities to increase access to care, improve long-term health outcomes, and advocate on behalf of the patients we serve, no matter where they live.”

AHN launched a free heart screening series throughout the City of Pittsburgh in August to provide initial heart consultations, imaging and preventative education to local North Side residents. The series – independent from the campaign and funded by the Pittsburgh Foundation and Highmark Health – is called “Every Heart Matters,” and specifically focuses on hypertension management. It is led by Anita Radhakrishnan, MD, cardiologist and clinical officer of diversity, equity and inclusion at the AHN Cardiovascular Institute. 

To schedule a heart check or learn more, visit ahn.org/heartcheck or call 412-DOCTORS.

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