Listen to Your Heart: A Conversation with Dr. Gulati


An American dies of a coronary event every 83 seconds. Every 40 seconds someone has a stroke, and 55,000 more women than men are having strokes. With such alarming statistics, it’s no shock that the country has dedicated itself to increasing awareness that heart disease is the nation’s number one killer, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined. Yet 80 percent of heart disease is preventable. While some people are born with heart disease or have family history, most cases are associated with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, stress, diabetes, smoking and obesity.

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 4.22.22 PMFebruary 2015 marks the 51st anniversary of American Heart Month. During this month, campaigns like the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women will aim to build awareness and educate women on the subject. To find out more about what women can and should be doing, M&V spoke to Dr. Martha Gulati, director of Preventive Cardiology and Women’s Cardiovascular Health at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. Gulati is committed to the study of women and cardiac diseases with a specific interest in fitness and prevention. 

M&V: Give us a quick rundown on the statistics of women and heart disease.gulati martha

GULATI: When you count heart disease and stroke, the risk for death in a woman is one in two, a toss of a coin. This is in contrast to the risk of breast cancer in women. That risk is one in eight. Women know that they are at risk for breast cancer and worry about it far more than heart disease and stroke, but the fact is, the number one killer of women is heart disease.

M&V: What is the root of the problem?

GULATI: When we look at the statistics, we’ve educated white women better than any other group. Right now, 66 percent of white women do understand that heart disease is the number one killer based on a survey published in 2013. Where we haven’t done as well is with minorities, particularly African-Americans and Hispanics. We need to figure out a way to get the story to the people at the highest risk, particularly African-American women, where heart disease is just so high.

M&V: How do we fix this?

GULATI: Part of it is educating our medical students and the physicians that are already there. Primary care has to get the message to their patients. We tell women, “Go for your mammogram,” and they go for their mammogram. We tell women to go get a Pap smear and they go get a Pap smear. What we haven’t communicated well is the number one killer. We have to say, “Go and get screened for heart disease.”

M&V: What are some lifestyle changes that people can make to lower their risk for heart disease?

GULATI: Walk and talk in person, rather than e-mailing the person in the cubicle down the hall. Always use stairs. Park further away. If you think you don’t have time, look at your calendar and schedule it in. There must be time for you. Remember 30 minutes can be split in 10 minutes three times over the day. We all waste 10 minutes somewhere in our day. If you sit at a desk, pedal while you sit, or get an exercise ball to sit on, or get a standing desk. If you must sit, get up every hour. Nobody was meant to sit for four hours straight. Stand when you are on a phone call. Or better yet, walk and talk. Have walking meetings at work if possible.

M&V: Any other interesting links to heart disease that women should be aware of?

GULATI: We’re seeing more and more data that show that women who had preeclampsia during pregnancy, 10 years later have already had cardiovascular events. Even if you have your baby in your 30s or 40s, 10 years is a short amount of time to go on and have a cardiovascular event. Even more concerning are those having complications during pregnancies in their 20s and 10 years later have cardiac events.

M&V: What studies are you currently working on?

GULATI: We just got approved for a study on breast cancer survivors and the risk of heart disease. Most people don’t realize that the risk factors for heart disease and breast cancer overlap. We need to know more. We’ve gotten very good at treating breast cancer. Now physicians need to redirect the focus.

(main image credit: Huffington Post)

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