I was once asked by a U.S. publisher to review a new book written by a heart patient, a memoir about her surprising diagnosis. But about 12 pages in, she mentioned that she had been a chain-smoker for three decades before her “surprising” cardiac diagnosis. I had to re-read that line. How could a person who had been chain smoking for decades possibly be “surprised” by this predictable outcome? Didn’t this clearly intelligent, educated woman know that smoking is a dangerous risk factor for heart disease (and a whole bunch of other nasty health issues)? I thought of this book recently when a new study from Harvard researcher Dr. Catherine Kreatsoulas reported that women are in fact more likely than men to underestimate their own risk of heart disease. . . . . . . Continue reading “Did you underestimate your cardiac risk?”
I was surprised to learn after surviving my own heart attack that cardiac events like mine may take 20-30 years to actually show up. In other words, I didn’t have a heart attack because I ate a piece of bacon or had a stressful day at work. I had a heart attack because something – likely decades earlier – had damaged the delicate endothelial cells lining my coronary arteries. . . . . Continue reading “Heart disease: decades in the making”
Over the years, I’ve had to teach myself the bare bone basics of interpreting cardiac studies. I’m certainly no research scientist (although I did spend 20 years of my life with one – does that count at all?) but I can tell you that one good place I like to start is the methodology section of any study. Wait! Don’t leave yet! I know, I know, this may seem crushingly dull. But the methods info is how I learned, for example, that out of over 5,000 participants recruited for the $100 million ISCHEMIA study in 2019, only 23 per cent were women. At the time, I offered a helpful editing suggestion to the Washington Post about their sensational coverage of ISCHEMIA (“Stents and Bypass Surgery are No More Effective Than Drugs!!” ) by requesting this important clarifier added to the end of that headline: “FOR MEN!” . . Continue reading “Cardiac research and the mystery of the missing facts”
It seems a cruel irony: the very thing that may have saved your life after a frightening cancer diagnosis is the same thing that can ultimately endanger your heart. I first heard of the known link between cancer treatments and later heart disease when I was a text editor of the palliative care textbook called Medical Care of the Dying.1 I learned about patients with end-stage heart disease caused by their cancer treatments – sometimes decades earlier. . .
Continue reading “When cancer treatment damages your heart”
This editorial, “What Women (and Clinicians) Don’t Know Hurts Them“, originally appeared in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. As a woman with heart disease, I wanted to immediately read it to find out what might be hurting me.
But as is common practice in most medical journals, this editorial was behind a paywall, so it was not available for heart patients like me, or anybody else who wasn’t a subscriber to the journal.
I could pay a fee of $35 for the privilege of reading this one article, but the reality is that I can’t afford to pay for articles that aren’t being published in what’s known as an open access journal.* Continue reading “MDs often tell women to lose weight rather than address cardiac risk factors”
We know now that childhood trauma is strongly associated with chronic illness later on, including heart disease. As I wrote in a recent blog post about ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences), researchers warn us that scoring 4 or higher on the ACE test can predict a significantly higher risk of physical or mental illness as an adult. I was stunned when I took the test and saw that my own score was 4; I was well aware of my childhood experiences, of course, but I thought that only marginalized kids from desperately poor families were at high risk – and that wasn’t me! A history of psychological childhood abuse or neglect is not what we expect our doctors to ask us about – but this research suggests that maybe they should start.