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Barbra Streisand's Change of Heart

What the famous singer, actor, and director is doing to change the state of women's heart health.

Q: Do you have a personal connection to a woman with heart disease?

A: I have had both close friends and family members impacted by heart disease. Sadly, I think most people have had someone in their lives who has suffered a heart attack and/or has all the risk factors for cardio-vascular disease.

Q: What's the No. 1 thing you wish women knew about heart health?

A: I want women to know that their hearts are physiologically different from men's and that heart disease in women doesn't always present the same as heart disease in men. Women need -- and deserve -- heart care specific to female hearts. Women with heart problems need cardiovascular screening, risk assessment, and diagnostic testing designed for women. Otherwise, they can be misdiagnosed, which could lead to disastrous consequences.

Q: How is heart disease different in women than in men?

A: Women having a heart attack don't always experience what men usually do -- chest pain associated with exertion. Instead, they may feel chest pressure, indigestion, shortness of breath, or fatigue. For these reasons, the need for gender-specific treatment is obvious and urgent.

Q: In your opinion, why are more women developing heart disease?

A: Today, more women are taking on the stresses of juggling household demands, of being wife, mother, and breadwinner. These modern-day strains add to higher blood pressure, lack of physical activity, quick and unhealthy food choices, and weight gain -- all major contributors to heart disease.

In addition, even though women have broken through some of the hardest glass ceilings, for decades, most heart disease research was done on men.

So, despite the best intentions of the medical community, women with heart disease have often been diagnosed and treated based on research outcomes done mostly on male patients.

Unfortunately, those approaches don't always work for women. And women need to be better educated about recognizing the risk factors for heart disease and how to prevent it. They need to take control of their own heart health by making it a priority to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, eat heart-healthy foods, and reduce stress. Gender-specific heart care and lifestyle changes have the potential to decrease the number of women afflicted with this life-threatening disease.

Q: How would you most like to see women's cardiovascular care change over the next 10 years?

A: I want to see women-centric cardiovascular health care, education, and research become the norm rather than the exception. We need to continue to explore women's heart disease from every angle, looking at risk factors and effective treatments across predetermined biological tendencies, demographics, and lifestyle choices. And we need to concentrate our research efforts where they'll have the most impact -- less invasive approaches to early detection and monitoring, advancements in treating small artery dysfunction, identification of gender-specific genes and proteins that may influence the risk of heart disease, clinical trials of promising new drugs, and lifestyle choices that can have a positive impact.

Through my association with Cedars-Sinai's Women's Heart Center, I've come to know what needs to be done. They're doing it, and I'm supporting them as they shape the future of women's heart care through their innovative work. If you are interested in getting involved and learning more, please visit: crowdrise.com/barbrastreisand.

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Reviewed on December 29, 2010

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