MORRISTOWN, NJ - As the number one leading cause of death in the country, heart disease impacts women much more than men. In the past decade, male deaths related to heart disease have lessened, while female deaths have remained the same.

However, the Atlantic Health System is aiming to close the gender gap on heart disease with the launch of the new Women’s Heart Program at the Gagnon Cardiovascular Institute at Morristown Medical Center.  With more than 42 million American women living with heart disease – the number one killer of women in the U.S. – this gender-specific program will be critical to helping women throughout the region prevent and treat a range of cardiovascular diseases.

The program is spearheaded by two doctors – Linda Gillam, chair of the Cardiovascular Medicine and Director of the Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship Program, and Claire Boccia, director of the Women’s Heart Health program. The program will provide female heart disease patients with gender-specific care for cardiac conditions including gestational diabetes, arrhythmias, chest pain syndromes, coronary artery disease and valve disease.

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The initial exam will take 45 minutes to an hour and the doctors will ask for patient and family medical history. The program will employ unique protocols to identify cardiac symptoms such as cardiac ischemia, which is often dismissed in women. 

Gillam said since they started the program in April it has been extremely successful.

“I think our program is unique, “she said. “Our program is geared to provide care that is optimized for women for all forms of heart disease.”

Since the program’s inception, word has spread in the community and women of all ages ranging from 18 to 40 and even senior citizens have come for consultations, she said.  The goal is to expand and have more women know about it, Gillam said.

After polling many experts in the field, they realized there was a need for the program, she said. The fact that women’s hearts are prone to more problems than men’s is something women should definitely know about, Gillam said.

They are quite fortunate to be surrounded by excellent women-focused activities at the hospital including the OBGYN, sports medicine and the breast center, she said. Furthermore, because many cardiologists are working with the program, people are able to see them if they don’t live near the hospital.

“Our position is if it can be done for men, we should be able to do it for women, as well,” she said. “Without support of the hospitals in which we work, it would be difficult to do this.”

Boccia said she has had many patients enlist in the program and several new ones sign up through referrals. She said one of the bigger areas of concern is caring for women through pregnancy who had heart problems prior to childbirth or being pregnant. The new program will allow doctors to detect and treat cardiac issues that develop during pregnancy that require close monitoring, such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and pregnancy-induced hypertension, which can lead to the development of heart disease at a younger age.

Pediatric cardiology also helps with the program, she added. Surprisingly, many women have heart attacks and ignore them, she said.  

“One of the things I like about doing women’s heart health is the broad spectrum,” Boccia said.

Morristown Memorial is also the only hospital in the state and one of 20 in the country to offer three minimally invasive treatment options for heart valve repair for patients who are ineligible to undergo open heart surgery.

For information or to sign up for the program call 973-971-8811.