This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

Waging war on menopause. A group of Chicago women take action against a little known, life-threatening effect that comes with aging.

Dr. Sheila Dugan, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Specialist, Rush University Medical Center: “Everybody knows menopausal women can’t sleep well, they get cranky. But no one knows about this risk to the heart.”

It’s a risk Rush physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist Dr. Sheila Dugan wants women to take to heart. It starts with a shift in hormones — estrogen levels drop throwing off the balance with testosterone. The process leads to weight gain – from the inside out.

Dr. Dugan: “When women go through menopause, they suddenly can’t button their pants any more. Somehow this issue of the visceral fat and heart disease is not on anyone’s radar screen.”

But it’s clear on a CAT scan. Called visceral fat – it builds up deep in the belly around the organs, then leaches into the heart.

Dr. Dugan: “Before menopause we have whistle clean arteries and then after menopause we suddenly develop atherosclerosis. And we know heart disease is the number one killer of women. This visceral fat development will be directly linked to your risk of heart disease after menopause.”

But hormones aren’t the only factor – stress and lack of physical activity are major contributors to the build up of fat. So Dr. Dugan and her team developed an intervention they hope will decrease a woman’s risk of post-menopausal heart disease.

Called WISHFIT, Women in Southside Health project, the two-year study — which is being conducted in Chicago’s Beverly and Morgan Park neighborhoods — teaches women lifestyle changes aimed to stop the fat in its tracks. It starts with body measurements and blood pressure readings.

Dr. Dugan: “We’re taking the next wave of women going through menopause and telling them, ‘All the stuff you’ve learned about being more physically fit need to be called into action.’ We are telling these women to change their life. Take what they know and act on it.”

Sabrina Myers acted quickly. After she enrolled in the study she changed her diet and started working out.

Sabrina Myers, WISHFIT participant: “I was a fast food junkie. I’m hoping the study will make it a lifestyle, not just something I start and stop.”

Laura Foley wants to stop the stress.

Laura Foley, WISHFIT participant: “One of the things I’ve been doing is the stop, breathe and be. You stop and take some deep breaths.”

For nine months she’s been practicing the principles of WISHFIT, like wearing a pedometer to track her physical activity.

Laura Foley: “I do feel better. I feel like I can handle stress more easily. I’ve lost a little bit of weight and inches.”

Robin Mitchell, WISHFIT participant: “Like teens go through that awkward stage, when you get to your 40s you get to this awkward stage where you don’t know what is going on with the body weight.”

Being a part of the study has helped her understand.

Robin Mitchell: “It gets to the root of some of the problems we face as women. I feel like it has given me the tools to get through menopause more easily. Before, I was on a rollercoaster.”

Now twenty pounds lighter after adding more intense, regular workouts to her routine and vegetables to her plate, Robin hopes the changes she’s made will stick with her.

Robin Mitchell: “We’re talking about sustainability. Even after the program is over I would hope this is a lifestyle change for me.”

Dr. Dugan hopes to enroll 10 more women in her study.

To learn more about the WISHFIT study in the Beverly / Morgan Park / Oak Lawn areas, call Chiquia Hollings at (312) 563-2123


Those outside of the area, but interested in more information about reducing the risk of heart disease and visceral fat, should call 888-352-RUSH (7874) to be connected to the Rush University Prevention Center.


Rush University Prevention Center,