February is Heart Health Month — we asked an expert about what we should know about ours | St. Louis Public Radio

February is Heart Health Month — we asked an expert about what we should know about ours

Feb 3, 2016

February is Heart Health Month. As such, we invited Dr. Andrew Kates of the Washington University Heart Care Institute at Barnes-Jewish Hospital to join “St. Louis on the Air” to discuss new developments in heart health research and answer questions about the heart.

Here are five questions we asked and five things we learned:

1. Heart disease kills more women every year than every other kind of cancer combined. Why?

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women and about 300,000 women die annually [from it] in the U.S; that’s one out of four deaths. More women than men die from heart disease. About two-thirds who die suddenly from heart disease don’t have any symptoms.”

“Classically, women have chest pain/chest discomfort. It is not unusual to have fatigue, shortness of breath or chest tightness that are signs.”

“We’ve known for some time now. The classic teaching was that heart disease was a man’s disease. We’ve realized over the last 20 years the importance of heart disease in women.”

“It’s not entirely clear [why]. What we’ve come to realize is that the diagnosis is being made more. We’re doing more to treat the risk factors. It is important to realize too that part of the challenge too is that women can be undertreated."

2. Why do doctors bring up smoking in relation to heart disease?

“When we think of treatment for different risk factors, two of the most treatable are smoking and physical inactivity/obesity. One of the challenges that we face is the perception that they can do it on their own and convincing patients it is OK to take hormone therapy to quit. A good smoking cessation program can help a lot.”

3. Is there any evidence that vaping is a healthier-for-the-heart alternative to smoking?

“There is no data with vaping. There is data that exposure to e-cigarette’s chemicals are harmful. It is not regulated. Studies that are being supported are by tobacco industry. Knowing the tobacco industry is interested in e-cigs should scare all of us. The first time for vaping for kids in high school is going up significantly. Just because there is no data saying it is harmful does not mean it is OK.”

4. How do you know your cholesterol is an issue for you?

“It is not too early to be tested for cholesterol. Children should be screened for cholesterol abnormalities too. One thing we think about is that your risk of heart disease relates to how long you’re exposed to high cholesterol levels. Be tested early and if you’re at-risk, be tested more often.”

5. Is a cardiac stress test adequate for diagnosing cardiac stress or angina?

“Symptoms of angina, symptoms coming from the heart (chest pain, pressure, chest tightness, shortness of breath), anything like that can be considered angina. Stress tests are a good first step. Sometimes they can be falsely negative or normal. In that situation, following it up, talking with your physician again or cardiologist can be helpful. Things we look for with stress testing is more than just changes on the stress test, but also if you have symptoms while you exercise and if they are reproducible.”

One final thought? Kates said the most important consideration with heart disease is to know the risk factors and realize they are treatable. Here’s a list to consider to think about heart disease:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Partake in a well-balanced diet
  • Keep a reasonable body weight
  • Partake in physical activity
  • Know your cholesterol, risk for diabetes

Friday, Feb. 5 is National Wear Red Day. People are encouraged to wear red to promote heart health awareness.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.