News

CommUnityCare Health Centers Mourns the Loss of Beloved Physician

Dear CommUnityCare Patients,

It is with very heavy hearts that we share the news of the passing of our beloved physician, Dr. Edwin Melendez, earlier this week. 

Dr. Melendez was known for his kindness, humor, medical knowledge and skill. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him — especially his patients and their families, many of whom had received care from Dr. Melendez for more than ten years at William Cannon Health Center, Southeast Health and Wellness Center and Blackstock Family Medicine. 

Thank you for your understanding as we work diligently to ensure that you, and all our William Cannon patients, still receive medical care when you need it. We sincerely apologize if your appointment has been affected. In the coming days and weeks, if you need care, please call 512-978-9015, option 1 to schedule an appointment with another one of our providers at William Cannon. If it is an urgent issue, you may always visit one of our walk-in clinics at the Southeast Health and Wellness Center or Hancock Walk-In Care. While Dr. Melendez is truly irreplaceable, we are working to find a physician who will be able to serve as your dedicated primary care provider for years to come.  

We understand that losing a trusted physician can be difficult, and we are here to support you during this time. If you would like to speak with one of our behavioral health consultants as you process this news, please call 512-978-9015, option 1. Please let us know that you would like to schedule an appointment with the behavioral health team to help process the loss of your physician, Dr. Melendez, and we will be glad to help you. 

A service mass is scheduled at Holy Trinity Church in San Antonio to celebrate Dr. Melendez’s life. His family welcomes patients and families to attend. As we receive more information from Dr. Melendez’s family, we will share additional details via our website, www.communitycaretx.org. 

Providing care for his patients was truly one of the greatest joys of Dr. Melendez’s life. Thank you for being such an important part of it.  

 

Update regarding Dr. Melendez’s Services:

Date and Time: Monday, July 1st at 10 a.m.

Location: Holy Trinity Church

20523 Huebner Rd.

San Antonio, TX 78258

A gathering will be hosted afterward. The family invites all to attend and requests only plants the day of the service, no flowers. 

 

With gratitude, 

William Cannon Family Medicine 

 

CommUnityCare Health Centers Continues Diligent Work to Ensure  

Affected Medicaid Patients Renew Coverage 

One year after Medicaid coverage unwinding, patients and health systems across the country continue to feel the effects of continuous Medicaid coverage ending.  

“Patients received a letter in the mail letting them know if they had to go through that recertification process for Medicaid. The problem with that is because we had continuous Medicaid for three-plus years, some folks moved and didn’t get the envelope, others didn’t hear about it, or they didn’t understand why they received the envelope,” said CommUnityCare Chief Operating Officer, Nancy Ban. “So, we had many patients who did not know how to get back on Medicaid.” 

Throughout the pandemic the federal government allowed people to continuously keep Medicaid enrollment as part of the COVID-19 public health emergency. In March 2023, that continuous coverage ended and caused millions of people to lose coverage. As a result, the state of Texas has been at the center of the Medicaid unwinding with more than 2 million enrollees losing benefits. 

According to the HRSA Health Center Program Uniform Data System, nearly 40% of patients at CommUnityCare Health Centers receive services using Medicaid coverage. Due to the end of the continuous coverage, nearly 15,000 patients throughout the Federally Qualified Health Center were disenrolled from Medicaid.  

Today, CommUnityCare Health Centers continues to diligently ensure its patients can access high-quality healthcare at its health centers.  

“We’ve been calling patients to confirm their appointments, informing them of documents that need to be submitted, and making sure that they’re updating information, “said CommUnityCare Financial Screening Specialist, Marisol Garcia. 

Ban adds that all Medicaid patients have received direct communication about continuous coverage ending, all front desk staff have been prompted with how to help patients, and extended weekend hours have been offered with financial screeners to help patients reenroll.  

CommUnityCare Health Centers is also utilizing a third party named Resource Corporation of America and a partnership with Foundation Communities to help reenroll patients that it has been unable to reach.  

“It is essential that our patients have coverage, even though we do not turn any of our patients away, we want to set up our patients for success even outside of our four walls,” added Ban. “We make sure that if our patients are not able to get on Medicaid for whatever reason, we have other options for them and our financial eligibility specialists can help them with receiving other assistance options,” added Ban.  

For more information about renewing your Medicaid coverage, click here. 

CommUnityCare Health Centers and Central Texas Food Bank 

Partner Up to Feed Families 

At CommUnityCare Health Centers, we understand the impact that proper nutrition has on the health and well-being of the communities we serve. That is why access to food is a fundamental determinant of health. Adequate access to nutritious food can support better management of chronic conditions, improve overall health and even reduce the risk of developing certain diseases.  

CommUnityCare Health Centers is proud to partner with the Central Texas Food Bank Mobile FARMacy program. The FARMacy program makes it possible for healthcare providers at CommUnityCare Health Centers to ‘prescribe’ nutritious food. Patients are able to access a mobile FARMacy pantry while accessing medical care at a CommUnityCare Health Center location and easily shop for nutritious food that meets USDA MyPlate standards.  

“We pride ourselves on having a one-stop-shop and providing our patients with social resources along with the other services in our health centers. So, our partnership with Central Texas Food Bank has been fantastic and we’re able to provide services to our patients while they’re in the clinic. We were able to serve 961 distinct individual patients, whose total households include nearly 1500 people,” said Clarissa, Manager of Community Health Social Services at CommUnityCare Health Centers. 

This collaboration is not just about distributing food; it’s a testament to the power of collective action in addressing the multifaceted challenges faced by the community. “It has been amazing to connect our patients with what they need, not just within a clinical setting, but also health care, transportation, we’re overcoming a lot of barriers within this partnership,” explains Clara Ann, Community Engagement Lead at CommUnityCare Health Centers. “It’s a symbol of empowerment, offering patients the independence to choose their groceries and reclaim control over their health.” 

To make this program a success, CommUnityCare Community Health Workers and Care Management team members connect with patients and prospective new patients by helping them learn about the free food program, assisting with grocery shopping and helping patients with transportation. This temporary program ran from October 2023 through May 2024 but is a testament to bringing communities together. CommUnityCare Health Centers is excited to partner with Central Texas Food Bank in future endeavors and grow a healthier, resilient community.  

Excerpts from this article were made possible through collaboration with the Central Texas Food Bank.

CommUnityCare Health Centers Recognized as “LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality High Performer” by Human Rights Campaign Foundation 

CommUnityCare Health Centers proudly announces its recognition as an “LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality High Performer” by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRC). The designation was awarded in the 16th annual Healthcare Equality Index (HEI), released this week. A record 1,065 healthcare organizations participated in the 2024 HEI survey and scoring process, with 462 receiving the prestigious “LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality High Performer” distinction. 

“We are honored to receive the ‘LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality High Performer’ designation from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation,” said Jaeson Fournier, President and CEO of CommUnityCare Health Centers. “At CommUnityCare, we are dedicated to providing inclusive healthcare services to all members of the LGBTQ+ community. This recognition reaffirms our commitment to creating a welcoming and supportive environment for LGBTQ+ patients and their loved ones. As we celebrate this achievement, we remain steadfast in our mission to eliminate disparities and ensure equitable access to healthcare for the communities we serve.” 

CommUnityCare Health Centers has long been a champion for individuals who have historically lacked access to a medical home by fostering inclusive health spaces tailored to the needs of the diverse communities served in Central Texas. During its HEI journey, CommUnityCare thoroughly reviewed and revised policies, procedures, and practices related to both LGBTQ+ patients and staff. 

To ensure that every aspect of the care experience is inclusive and mindful of the unique health challenges of LGBTQ+ community members, CommUnityCare formalized practices around demographic data collection, including gender identity and sexual orientation. This allows for accurate assessment of health disparities and ensures that patients receive a positive, affirming experience with healthcare providers who respect their preferred name and pronouns. 

As a 2024 Top Workplace USA awardee, CommUnityCare Health Centers remains committed to cultivating a safe and inviting workplace. The organization reviewed and revised its HR-related policies, including benefits, leave, and workplace safety. Additionally, CommUnityCare created a comprehensive guide for employees seeking support during their gender-affirming journey, ensuring company policies are cognizant of the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ employees and their loved ones. 

This recognition by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation solidifies CommUnityCare Health Centers’ dedication to providing equitable healthcare services and creating a safe environment for LGBTQ+ patients and staff. The organization remains focused on delivering fully inclusive care and eliminating disparities in the communities it serves. 

  

About CommUnityCare Health Centers 

Central Texas Community Health Centers, dba CommUnityCare Health Centers is a 501.c.3 tax-exempt charitable corporation operating a network of twenty-eight federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) in Central Texas. Our mission is to strengthen the health and well-being of the communities we serve. CommUnityCare Health Center services are available regardless of insurance status or household income. For more information visit communitycaretx.org. 

  

About the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Healthcare Equality Index 

The Healthcare Equality Index is an annual survey conducted by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation to evaluate and recognize healthcare facilities that demonstrate a commitment to equitable and inclusive care for LGBTQ+ patients and staff. For more information, visit hrc.org/resources/healthcare-equality-index. 

Celebrating Nurses’ Week: Honoring the Pillars of Healthcare

Each year from May 6th to May 12th, we observe Nurses’ Week, a time dedicated to recognizing the invaluable contributions of nurses across the nation. The theme chosen by the American Nurses Association for 2024, “Nurses Make the Difference,” aptly highlights the critical role nurses play in enhancing our lives through various capacities.
 
At CommUnityCare Health Centers, this theme resonates profoundly as it reflects the broad spectrum of essential services our nurses provide. Their roles extend beyond traditional care to include health promotion, education, disease prevention, emergency response, and advocacy for health equity—particularly for vulnerable populations.
 
This year is especially significant as it marks the 22nd consecutive year that nurses have been named the most honest and ethical professionals in the Gallup poll. Such recognition underscores the trust and respect that nurses command in our society.
 
Nurses’ Week also provides an opportunity to celebrate the historical achievements within the nursing profession. One notable figure is Brigadier General Hazel Johnson-Brown, a trailblazer who became the first Black female general and the first Black chief of the United States Army Nurse Corps. Despite encountering racial barriers in the 1940s, she pursued her passion for nursing and later made significant contributions to the field, including her role as the director of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and her impactful work at George Mason University, where she helped establish the Center for Health Policy, Research, and Ethics.
 
Brigadier General Johnson-Brown’s legacy continued beyond her passing in 2011, with the U.S. House of Representatives honoring her with a Joint Resolution for her dedication to the nursing profession and the U.S. Army.
 
As we celebrate Nurses’ Week, let us extend our heartfelt gratitude to all the nurses at CommUnityCare, whose daily commitment and dedication reflect why they remain the most trusted professionals. To my colleagues, I urge you to take a moment this week to express your appreciation for the nurses’ tireless efforts in advancing care and services for our organization and community. Their dedication not only supports the health of individuals but also strengthens the entire healthcare system, proving that indeed, “Nurses Make the Difference.”

Opioid Overdose Surge in Austin: Safety Tips and Resources

In the last few days, Austin has faced an alarming spike in opioid overdoses, with more than 50 cases reported across the area, including eight deaths. This surge has prompted a staggering 1000% increase in overdose emergency calls in one day. Early investigations point to the presence of high potency synthetic opioids (HPSOs), such as fentanyl, in substances being sold illegally as benzodiazepines like Valium, Klonopin and Xanax. Additionally, there are concerns about HPSO contamination of synthetic cannabinoids (“K2 or Spice”) and stimulants like amphetamines, cocaine, and methamphetamine. 

Whether you or someone you know is using these substances, it’s important to understand the fundamentals of overdose prevention and know where to find resources for assistance. 

“While this surge has thus far been limited to adults, it is important for families and communities to talk across all age groups about ways to stay safe. In this environment, experimentation can be deadly,” said Dr. Nicholas Yagoda, Chief Medical Officer for CommUnityCare. “The victims this week span all demographics – age, housing status, gender, race, ethnicity, and geography. Our entire community is at risk.” 

Here are some essential tips to help keep yourself and others safe:

  1. Don’t Use Alone: If possible, avoid using substances alone. Having someone with you can provide crucial support in case of an overdose. Consider reaching out to the Overdose Prevention Hotline at 1-800-972-0590 or using the Brave App for additional assistance.
  2. Start Low, Go Slow: When using substances, start with a small dose and gradually increase if necessary. This can help reduce the risk of overdose.
  3. Stagger Doses: If you’re using with a friend, consider staggering your doses. This means taking turns and giving each other time between doses to monitor for any adverse reactions.
  4. Avoid Mixing with Other Downers: Mixing substances like opioids with alcohol or other depressants can increase the risk of overdose. Stick to one substance at a time and avoid combining them.
  5. Be Cautious After a Break: If you haven’t used substances for a few days or more, be extra careful when starting again. Your tolerance may have decreased, increasing the risk of overdose.
  6. Use Fentanyl Test Strips: These strips can help identify the presence of fentanyl in substances, allowing you to make informed decisions about use.
  7. Carry Naloxone: Naloxone is a life-saving medication that can reverse opioid overdoses. Make sure to always carry it with you and learn how to use it effectively.
  8. Access Naloxone: Naloxone is available for free at Narcan in Case of Emergency (NICE) vending machines located at various locations across Austin. Additionally, with a MAP card, you can obtain naloxone for free at any HEB or CommUnityCare pharmacy in Travis County.
  9. Seek Help: If you or someone you know is struggling with drug use, don’t hesitate to seek help. The CommUnityCare Addiction Medicine Clinic is available to provide support and assistance. You can call them at 512-978-9401 or visit the Southeast Health and Wellness Center during walk-in hours from 8:00 a.m. until 10:00 a.m., Monday through Friday.

In these challenging times, it’s important for us to come together as a community and support each other. By staying informed and taking proactive measures, we can help prevent overdoses and save lives. Remember, your safety and well-being are our top priorities. 

Stay safe, Austin. 

CommUnityCare Health Centers Expands Health Care Access in Eastern Travis County 

CommUnityCare Health Centers and Central Health have long recognized the need to expand health care delivery to the Eastern Crescent in Travis County. As part of this ongoing effort, CommUnityCare Health Centers will transition its in-person medical mobile services at Creedmoor Community Center and Barbara Jordan Elementary School to brick-and-mortar locations. This change of service will allow CommUnityCare Health Centers to expand its services and effectively serve its patients.

In 2018, Central Health purchased a Recreational Vehicle (RV) that has since been operated as a medical mobile clinic by CommUnityCare Health Centers. The medical mobile clinic has helped meet access to healthcare needs, while plans were made to build brick-and-mortar clinics in Hornsby Bend, Del Valle and Colony Park.  

CommUnityCare services at the mobile clinic and a temporary modular clinic in Hornsby Bend have served as a bridge while plans for new Eastern Crescent clinics were developed. Eastern Travis County celebrated the opening of the new Central Health Hornsby Bend Health and Wellness Center in Fall 2023. In December 2023, CommUnityCare Health Centers began providing patients in Hornsby Bend with family medicine, women’s health and lab services three days a week and has experienced a strong patient demand since opening. The Del Valle Health and Wellness Center is also expected to open in late 2024.  

Patients can expect the following with the new change of service:  

  • Increased services at Hornsby Bend Health and Wellness Center from 3 to 5 days. 
  • A total of 84 new appointment slots each week in the Eastern Crescent. The mobile clinic could see 13 patients a day, while a brick-and-mortar clinic can service 24 patients a day.  
  • A telehealth kiosk and CommUnityCare staff member (non-provider) will rotate at Barbara Jordan Elementary School to help patients navigate telehealth services or connect them with the appropriate resources. CommUnityCare leadership is evaluating whether the same setup can be done at Creedmoor Community Center, in the interim a medical assistant or community health worker will remain available on-site during the transition period.  
  • In person access will continue at Northeast Resource Center as Central Health and CommUnityCare Health Centers continue to plan for a Colony Park Health Center.   
  • For patients with limited transportation options, CommUnityCare Health Centers will continue to offer transportation assistance through its partnership with Lyft and zTrip.  
  • All patients recently seen have been made aware and future Creedmoor appointments have been scheduled at other CommUnityCare Health Center locations.  

The Hornsby Bend Health and Wellness Center has served as a backup location for mobile clinic services when the RV is out of service. In the past two years, the RV has had more than 75 days where it was out of commission due to needed repairs and intermittent availability of a CDL driver. The RV is also approaching the end of its life making it increasingly difficult to obtain parts for timely repairs.  

Central Texas is growing rapidly, as has demand for the services provided by CommUnityCare Health Centers. In 2023, CommUnityCare Health Centers served a record number of more than 134,000 unique patients and demand continues to grow. CommUnityCare Health Centers, in partnership with Central Health, is part of an expanding safety net health care system, with a goal of improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves.  

For more information about the CommUnityCare Health Center realignment journey, click here.

CommUnityCare Health Centers Named as one of the 2024 Top Workplaces USA

Austin, TX – CommUnityCare Health Centers, a not-for-profit 501(c) (3) corporation providing primary care health services to the medically underserved, is excited to announce it has earned a 2024 Top Workplaces USA award by Energage. Energage is a purpose-driven organization that develops solutions to build and brand Top Workplaces. 

Top Workplaces USA celebrates organizations with 150 or more employees that have built great cultures. Over 42,000 organizations were invited to participate in the Top Workplaces USA survey.

“This recognition is a testament to the dedication and talent of our team members, who make our organization such a special place to work. We are committed to creating a positive and inclusive workplace culture where everyone can thrive, and this award is a validation of our efforts,” said CommUnityCare Vice President of Human Resources, Yomi Fabiyi. ”I look forward to continuing our journey of excellence and further enhancing our workplace for the benefit of all our employees and patients who we serve every day.”

Winners of the Top Workplaces USA list are chosen based solely on employee feedback gathered through an employee engagement survey, issued by Energage. Results are calculated by comparing the survey’s research-based statements, including 15 Culture Drivers that are proven to predict high performance against industry benchmarks.

CommUnityCare Health Centers provides access to primary care services including family medicine, pediatrics, dental, behavioral health, women’s health, specialty care, plus more.

“Earning a Top Workplaces award is a badge of honor for companies, especially because it comes authentically from their employees,” said Eric Rubino, Energage CEO. “That’s something to be proud of. In today’s market, leaders must ensure they’re allowing employees to have a voice and be heard. That’s paramount. Top Workplaces do this, and it pays dividends.”

At CommUnityCare, we believe caring for others begins with caring for our team members. Begin your career at CommUnityCare Health Centers, apply today!

Black History Month: Celebrating Black Men’s Health Clinic 

The partnership between CommUnityCare Health Centers and Black Men’s Health Clinic (BMHC) was birthed in 2022, out of a mutual commitment to increase access to healthcare in a setting that best meets the needs of men of color. Since the partnership was established, BMHC and CommUnityCare Health Centers have diligently worked to fulfill the promise to the community to create culturally appropriate pathways to health care to address long-standing health disparities plaguing Black Men and all men of color. 

“At CommUnityCare Health Centers, our mission is to serve and uplift communities of color, directly confronting institutional biases and racism,” said Jaeson Fournier, President and CEO. “In 2023, 86.2% of our patients identified as racial or ethnic minorities, underscoring our commitment to tackling health inequities head-on.”  

Fournier further emphasized the importance of strategic partnerships, particularly highlighting the collaboration with the Black Men’s Health Clinic (BMHC). “This partnership is vital to our efforts in achieving health equity. It enables us to address the specific health disparities faced by men of color, ensuring they receive the targeted care they need. Our work with the BMHC is a clear example of our commitment to fostering a healthcare system that is equitable and inclusive for all and our commitment to working with partners that share this commitment, like the BMHC.” 

In just short of two years, effective, unique outreach strategies have been developed to connect with Black men where they live, work, play and pray.  

“This strategy of community outreach and engagement bridges collaboration among churches, schools, partners, nonprofits, hospitals, primary and secondary educational institutions, and other advocacy organizations,” said Larry Wallace Sr., Founder of Black Men’s Health Clinic.  “This approach has proven to be effective in reaching our targeted population.” 

CommUnityCare Health Centers aligns with BMHC in the work to address health equity concerns by raising awareness of existing inequities in the health care system. Wallace Sr. shares that these inequities can be triggered by prejudice, institutional racism, or unintentional cultural differences that do not cultivate cultural sensitivity.  

“The funding from Central Health and the partnership with CommUnityCare Health Centers is invaluable,” added Wallace Sr.  “Their support helps us provide critical clinical services including primary care and mental health for our targeted population. CommUnityCare leadership has exemplified what it means to be culturally sensitive, for the greater good of our entire community, demonstrated through their support of Black Men’s Health Clinic. We are grateful for this priceless partnership.” 

Black Men’s Health Clinic Recognition 

As a result of the recent work, BMHC has received several meaningful recognitions, including a proposition from the Mayor and City of Austin during Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and was named and featured as the Community Partner of the Month by CBS Austin-Telemundo in February of this year.  

A message from Black Men’s Health Clinic: As we move forward, BMHC remains committed to reversing long-standing and traditional practices and systems which perpetuate physical, emotional, and psychological distress, and negatively impacts life expectancy and the quality of life for Black men, men of color, their immediate families, and those with extenuating circumstances. Black Men’s Health Clinic serves as a beacon of hope and restoration for all men of color, fostering “Care You Can Trust”.   

2024 FEATURED VIDEOS 

BMHC Signature Video and Testimonials 

SUBSCRIBE to BMHC’s Weekly Newsletter on the website: blackmenshealthclinic.org 

CONNECT with BMHC on Social Media 

 

 

 

What Women Can Do to Reduce Their Risk From Heart Disease

This article was originally published by CNN. 
 

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women — for about 1 in 5 women — in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 60 million American women are living with some form of heart disease, yet just over half (56%) are aware that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women.

What are the types of heart disease that women should be aware of? Does heart disease affect women differently than it affects men? What are symptoms that may signify cardiac problems? And what should women do in order to improve their cardiac health?

To guide us through these questions, I spoke with CNN wellness expert Dr. Leana Wen. Wen is an emergency physician and adjunct associate professor at George Washington University. She previously served as Baltimore’s health commissioner.

 

CNN: What are the types of heart disease that women should be aware of?

Dr. Leana Wen: Heart disease is an umbrella term that encompasses several cardiovascular conditions.

Coronary artery disease is the most common kind of heart disease. This occurs when the arteries in the heart are narrowed or become blocked by plaques made of cholesterol deposits. Coronary artery disease and vascular disease, or disease in blood vessels, are the leading cause of heart attacks and strokes. Risk factors for coronary artery disease include medical problems such as hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes; obesity; and smoking.

Another type of heart disease is heart rhythm abnormalities. Atrial fibrillation, for instance, occurs when the heart beats irregularly. This can lead to blood clots and complications like stroke and heart failure.

Heart failure itself is another form of heart disease. This occurs when the heart is damaged or weakened in some way. Causes of heart failure include heart attacks; chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and excessive alcohol use; and some viral or bacterial infections.

There are also abnormalities with the structure of the heart itself, for example, if there are defects with the valves in the heart or a hole in the wall of the heart. Some of these are congenital, meaning they are there at birth; or they could develop over time due to infection, disease or other factors.

CNN: Does heart disease affect women differently than it affects men? 

Wen: In some ways, yes. This begins at birth, because the size and structure of the heart is different in men and women, with women generally having smaller hearts and blood vessels compared with men. Studies have shown that women have a higher likelihood of developing heart disease in the smaller arteries of their heart. This is harder to diagnose compared with problems with the larger arteries and contributes in part to the higher rates of missed diagnoses in women.

Furthermore, there are hormonal changes, such as changes in estrogen levels, that occur in women during their lifetime that may also affect their risk of coronary artery disease. And women are more likely than men to have certain conditions that increase their risk of heart conditions, including anemia and endometriosis.

Heart disease is the top killer of women in the United States.

CNN: Are there cardiac problems that occur specifically during pregnancy?

Wen: There are medical conditions that can manifest during pregnancy that could influence heart health both while the patient is pregnant and later in life. These include common conditions such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, and less common but very serious problems such as enlarged heart resulting in heart failure.

There may also be preexisting heart conditions that don’t manifest until the body is stressed during pregnancy and labor and delivery. For instance, someone may have had long-standing blood pressure but not known it until pregnancy. Women of child-bearing age need to be aware of these conditions and pay attention to heart health before, during and after delivery.

CNN: What are symptoms that mean women should seek prompt urgent medical attention? 

Wen: The classic symptoms of heart attack are chest pain, pain in the jaw and neck extending to left arm, shortness of breath, feeling lightheaded and nausea. These symptoms may not all be there, or there may be variations. For instance, someone may not say they have chest pain, but they could be having a heavy sensation or dull ache in their chest. They could have pain in their upper abdomen, back or shoulders.

Women are more likely than men to have vague, non-classic symptoms, including fatigue, nausea, and upper abdomen discomfort. Multiple studies have reported that women are misdiagnosed more than men; their symptoms of heart attack end up being attributed to heartburn or even psychiatric manifestations. In one study, nearly half of women didn’t have the classic signs of heart attack.

CNN: What about other heart problems that aren’t heart attacks? What might be some warning signs?

Wen: Someone with heart rhythm abnormalities might experience palpitations and feel like their heart is suddenly beating quickly and irregularly. They might experience lightheadedness and feeling faint. People with congestive heart failure could have gradual worsening of their ability to exercise and start feeling winded after a short walk. They might notice swelling in their legs and require more pillows to be comfortable sleeping at night.

CNN: What should women do to improve their cardiac health?

Wen: The most important thing is to be aware of and manage existing medical conditions that increase your risk of heart disease. High blood pressure is one such risk factor. More than 56 million American women have high blood pressure. That’s 44% of adult women in the United States. While the incidence of high blood pressure increases with age, many younger women have this condition, too; according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 5 women of reproductive age have high blood pressure.

Fewer than 1 in 4 women with high blood pressure have this condition under control, according to the CDC. Keeping on top of your blood pressure and optimizing it with lifestyle changes and medications, if needed, is key to reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular complications.

The same goes for women with diabetes and high cholesterol. Obesity is also a major risk factor, as is smoking, excessive alcohol intake, unhealthy diet and lack of exercise. Women should also not discount the role of stress, sleep, and mental well-being, which can also influence heart health.d thrive.