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Voice of America: VOA TEK Women Heart Health

Voice of America recently featured three Smidt Heart Institute experts in two segments on women’s heart issues: C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD, director of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center; Martha Gulati, MD, director of Preventive Cardiology; and Jennifer Van Eyk, PhD, professor of Cardiology, Biomedical Sciences, and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. The three experts discussed heart disease in women and Takotsubo cardiomyopathy—also called “broken heart” syndrome—a condition triggered by intense stress or loss that can cause injury to the heart, especially in women. 

Gulati told Voice of America host Crystal Dilworth that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women, who don’t always experience the same symptoms as men. Though 90% of men and women report having chest pain or pressure before a heart attack, Gulati said women are more likely to experience three or more additional symptoms, including profound fatigue, shortness of breath, jaw pain and shoulder pain.  

Gulati, associate director of the Preventive and Rehabilitative Cardiac Center in the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai and the Anita Dann Friedman Chair in Women’s Cardiovascular Medicine and Research, said she and her colleagues are “finding that there’s a difference in the underlying pathophysiology of cardiovascular disease. Certain types of diseases we’re seeing more frequently in women compared with men.”

Women also account for 90% of Takotsubo cases and 60% of heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, said Merz, a professor of Cardiology and the Irwin and Sheila Allen Chair in Women’s Heart Research. She gave Dilworth examples of differences in male and female bodies, both of which can lead to heart attack. Women have proportionately smaller coronary arteries that can be too small to effectively deliver blood to the heart. Whereas men have larger arteries that are prone to clogging. Because of these differences, a heart attack in a woman won’t appear the same as in a man or require the same treatment.

Merz and Van Eyk—the Erika J. Glazer Chair in Women's Heart Health—studied blood samples collected from women with Takotsubo syndrome up to 10 years after the initial diagnosis. They compared these samples with blood collected from healthy individuals and found different protein patterns in the blood of Takotusbo patients, a lasting marker of the disease.

“What we know with Takotsubo is that if you’ve had it once, you’re at a higher risk of getting it a second time,” Van Eyk said.    

Click here and here to watch the complete segments from Voice of America