In 1979, my then 49-year-old mother had jaw discomfort. One doctor said it was related to her stomach. Another said it was asthma. A third said it was anxiety. It wasn’t until she had a heart attack that the doctors realized they had been ignoring her heart disease symptoms for months. In those days, the medical community didn’t believe a 49-year-old woman could have a heart problem. That experience inspired me to become a physician.
Question: Where is heart disease treatment headed?
Treatments are getting less and less invasive every year. My mother spent three weeks in the hospital after her heart surgery and one week of that was in intensive care on a ventilator. The way things are going today, we may see some of yesterday’s very invasive heart surgeries become same-day procedures with quicker recovery time. That’s incredible.
Sandra Abramson, MD
Director, Cardiovascular Imaging
Lankenau Medical Center
Question: What led you to specialize in electrophysiology?
Electrophysiology is the branch of cardiology that diagnoses and treats heart-rhythm disorders known as arrhythmias–problems with the electrical activity of the heart. My background is in engineering, so I was completely enthralled by the crossroads of technology and medicine in this field. I was also excited that I could offer patients a cure for their problem rather than just medications and chronic treatment.
Question: What do women still need to know about heart disease?
A heart attack isn’t the only form of heart disease. There are other equally serious problems that affect the heart’s electrical system and valves. In fact, the most common cause of death involving the heart is an arrhythmia, not a heart attack. Women should be aware of more subtle symptoms and not just be worried about the stereotypical crushing chest pain.
Sumeet Mainigi, MD, FHRS, FACC
Director of Electrophysiology
Einstein Healthcare Network
Question: Will there ever be a cure for heart disease?
Anything is possible, and it’s a goal to aspire to. I can tell you that we have made great progress–mortality rates for heart disease have decreased, which is phenomenal. However, the fight requires advances on many fronts. Awareness of the problem, especially among women, is one of those fronts.
Question: How big of a role does prevention play in fighting heart disease?
Heart disease doesn’t happen overnight in most cases. Prevention early in life and throughout your life is extremely important. There are definitely steps you can take to lessen your chance of developing heart problems: get screened for high blood pressure, have your cholesterol checked, follow a heart-healthy diet, get active and never smoke. Starting on a heart-healthy path at a young age will pay off in the future.
H. Todd Massey, MD
Cardiac Transplant and Advanced Heart Failure Program
Question: Is it ever too late to get heart healthy?
Even if you have advanced coronary disease or heart failure, you can still stop smoking, still get your cholesterol and sugars under control, and still lower your blood pressure… all of which can improve your quality of life. We can’t eliminate a problem that already exists, but you can live better with a problem you already have.
Question: How do men and women differ when it comes to heart failure?
Women tend to develop heart disease later in life, especially a condition called diastolic heart failure. This occurs when the lower left chamber of the heart declines in performance. We mainly see this in older adults, and because women live longer than men, they are more likely to develop this.
Andrew Boyle, MD
Advanced Heart Failure Program
Question: You specialize in inherited cardiomyopathy… what is that?
Coronary artery disease can be caused by an unhealthy diet, smoking or lack of exercise. But there are some heart conditions that are genetically passed down through the generations. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is one–it’s a thickening of the heart muscle found in one in 500 people. Although it’s common, it often goes unrecognized. When you hear of a young athlete dying, this disease is often the culprit.
Question: What role does genetics play in the future of heart disease?
Someday you’ll get a reading of all the genes in your body and we’ll be able to personalize your care depending on what we find. That’s the goal we’re all shooting for. We can already produce a readout of a person’s genetic makeup, but we don’t yet understand the interplay between all of the genes and diseases. Once we make those connections we’ll be able to predict what genes cause which diseases and better understand a person’s risk.
Anjali Tiku Owens, MD
Center for Inherited Cardiac Disease