As a busy professional, Dr. Paula Miller has a personal understanding of how hard it can be for women to fit exercise and a healthy diet into days packed with meetings, clinic, research, and more. As Director of UNC Health Care’s Women’s Heart Program, Dr. Miller also knows women’s risk for cardiovascular disease and how prevention can save lives. Cardiovascular disease includes heart disease, stroke, peripheral artery disease, and atherosclerosis. In North Carolina, heart disease and stroke account for 28% of all deaths in women, making cardiovascular disease the leading cause of death among women in our state. However, if you ask a woman what she expects to die from, her likely reply will be “cancer,” or more specifically, “breast cancer.”

Dr. Paula Miller

Women’s increased risk for heart disease stems from how they respond to and talk about their health, but it also stems from lifestyle. Women experiencing a cardiovascular event tend to show up in the ER an hour later than men do; they tend to not talk to primary care providers, often their OB/GYN, about risk factors like blood pressure or cholesterol levels; and they have a higher prevalence of obesity than men.

Women cannot take control of their health without first knowing about the risks they face. Dr. Miller is working to educate women about these risks and how to address them. Through workplace health screenings and an annual Women’s Heart Symposium, Dr. Miller is increasing women’s health care access and sparking health dialogue among women. She and her colleagues have led heart health screenings at local businesses such as Mark Jacobson Toyota, local government partners such as the towns of Mebane and Hillsborough, as well as Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. She also makes annual visits to senior centers in the area.

The Women’s Heart Symposium began as a small gathering of 20 women who came together for a day to learn about cardiovascular health risks and lifestyle changes that can improve health outcomes. In just five years, the symposium has grown to 120 attendees, ranging in age from 18 to 95. For Dr. Miller, seeing how the symposium changes women’s lives is one of the most inspiring aspects of her job. She sees women come to the symposium, learn how a plant-based Mediterranean diet plus exercise can improve health outcomes, and then change the way they eat and move based on this information. “People who stay active live longer and live better,” Miller says. She adds, “By making these simple changes, women are taking control of their lives.”

Dr. Miller sees many opportunities for growth of this programming. She’d like to expand the symposium to reach both eastern and western North Carolina. as well as build the capacity of the Women’s Heart Clinic. As the only clinical staff member, Dr. Miller is limited in her ability to meet the needs of women across the state. As the clinic continues to grow, she hopes to impact the lives of many more women.

In the meantime, Dr. Miller is focused on getting the word out about heart health in the hopes that more women have the knowledge and resources they need to talk to their primary care providers about their risks and how to reduce them. Equipped with knowledge and information, these women can continue taking control of their lives.

For more information on how to support Dr. Miller and Cardiology, please contact Brian Frerking, Director of Development, at 919-843-5733 or brian_frerking@med.unc.edu.

To make a gift, visit our giving page here.

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