Cedars-Sinai Blog

Barbra Streisand's Philanthropic Leadership

Cedars-Sinai cardiologist C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD and Barbra Streisand

With the Support of Barbra Streisand, Center Battles a Leading Killer of Women: Heart Disease

When C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD, became a cardiologist, she quickly found out that most heart disease studies focused on male patients, while women cardiology patients were widely viewed—and medically treated—as though they were smaller versions of men.

25 years later, when actress/singer/director/activist Barbra Streisand met Bairey Merz, she was shocked to learn that too little had changed. Although heart disease kills more women than men every year, Streisand discovered that women were still playing catch-up when it came to cardiac research and treatment.

"Women around the world are dying in alarming numbers from an epidemic of heart disease," Streisand said. "We can no longer afford the misconception that heart disease is mostly a man's problem. Nothing could be further from the truth. The need for more research into women's heart disease is urgent."

Streisand's support, advocacy and philanthropic commitment have resulted in the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center, directed by Bairey Merz.

"Women need—and deserve—heart care specific to female hearts"

"Women need—and deserve—heart care specific to female hearts," Streisand said. Streisand has a long association with Cedars-Sinai, supporting a regenerative medicine research fund in 2007, then underwriting the Barbra Streisand Women's Cardiovascular Research and Education Program in 2008. In 2011, she received the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Humanitarian Award for her efforts on behalf of women's heart health and her many other philanthropic activities.

"Barbra Streisand's leadership allows us to dedicate significant resources to women's heart healthcare education and research," said Eduardo Marbán, MD, PhD, director of the Smidt Heart Institute and the Mark S. Siegel Family Professor. "With heart disease the number one killer of women, we need this level of significant investment to find innovative solutions."

As a critical component of the Heart Institute, the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center is focused on providing leading edge healthcare to women with heart disease and developing research that could lead to new treatments.

Research directed by Bairey Merz, who leads a multi-center National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute study on women's heart disease, already has earned Cedars-Sinai a reputation as a world leader in identifying and treating gender differences in heart disease symptoms, causes and outcomes. Some of the key findings that point out the differences between men and women include:

  • Women who have a history of irregular menstrual cycles, estrogen deficiencies and polycystic ovary syndrome may have a higher risk of developing heart disease as they age.
  • Women can have normal angiograms even when they have ischemic heart disease, which affects the small arteries around the heart, and may not be revealed by an angiogram, which is better at detecting developing clots in larger arteries, a condition that predominately affects men.
  • Women are often told their stress tests are normal or that they have "false positives." Bairey Merz says doctors should pay attention to symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath rather than relying on a stress test score.
  • Women who exhibit symptoms of ischemic heart disease can benefit from treatments ranging from proper medication to reduce heart attacks and control symptoms, as well as lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, eating a low-fat diet and exercising regularly.

"We are just at the beginning of understanding the differences between the sexes when it comes to heart disease," said Bairey Merz. "What we need now are large-scale medical studies that identify tailored diagnostic and therapeutic strategies to optimize outcomes for women and men."

Women and Heart Disease Statistics

  • Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death for U.S. women.
  • Two out of three American women have at least one risk factor for heart disease.
  • One out of two American women will develop heart and vascular disease.
  • 12 times as many women die of heart disease every year as die from breast cancer.
  • 455,000 American women die of heart disease every year, compared to 410,000 men.
  • One-quarter to one-half of women with heart disease experience different symptoms than are typical in men. For example, many women experience extreme fatigue and nausea, while men report a tingling feeling in their left arm.