In celebration of American Heart Month, we asked Cedars-Sinai experts a few questions about heart health.
- Dr. Sumeet Chugh, associate director of the Smidt Heart Institute
- Dr. Timothy Henry, former director of cardiology
- Dr. Noel Bairey Merz, director of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center
- Dr. Evan Zahn, director of the Guerin Family Congenital Heart Program
- Dr. Michelle Kittleson, cardiologist
- Dr. Janet Wei, cardiologist
What’s a common misconception about heart health?
Dr. Chugh: Exertion can harm the heart. With rare exceptions, exercise saves many more lives than it takes.
Dr. Henry: Women don’t get coronary artery disease or heart attacks.
Dr. Bairey Merz: Young women cannot get or die from heart disease.
Dr. Zahn: Children cannot have heart disease.
Dr. Wei: It only happens in older men or women. Heart-disease death rates in women younger than 55 are going up.
What’s one thing anyone can do to protect their heart?
Dr. Chugh: 30 minutes of moderate exercise, like walking, 5 days a week.
Dr. Henry: Stop smoking, exercise, know your blood pressure and cholesterol, and treat if needed.
Dr. Bairey Merz: Don’t smoke and don’t allow others to smoke in your space.
Dr. Kittleson: Exercise is critical. Not only does it improve weight, blood pressure, diabetes control, and cholesterol, it’s also an early-detection system. If you’re exercising regularly, you are in tune with your body and can notice exertional limitations that may signal heart problems.
Dr. Wei: Know your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers and seek treatment if they are elevated.
What’s a sign that something may be wrong with my heart?
Dr. Chugh: Possible signs that should not be ignored include chest pain, shortness of breath with exertion, dizziness, palpitations, and fainting spells.
Dr. Henry: Chest pain or shortness of breath.
Dr. Bairey Merz: Any symptom above the waist that is unusual for you.
Dr. Kittleson: A change in your stamina, endurance, or energy levels with exercise.
Dr. Wei: Chest discomfort or shortness of breath while exercising.
What’s the most important thing you want people to know about heart health?
Dr. Chugh: Heart health is an achievable goal.
Dr. Henry: There are tangible ways to promote heart-healthy living!
Dr. Bairey Merz: Application of research findings has led to a 50% reduction in heart disease death, but we need more research to find cures.
Dr. Zahn: Congenital heart disease is a lifelong diagnosis and follow-up is critical to maintaining good heart health.
Dr. Wei: Adverse pregnancy outcomes such as gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, and preterm labor are associated with future maternal cardiovascular disease, so women with these conditions should get regular check-ups for cardiac risk counseling.