Heart Awareness: An Interview with Dr. Shyla High

February 6, 2014

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Cardiology expert Shyla High shares her insight on prevention and action steps.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, "Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, but heart disease is preventable and controllable." February is "American Heart Month," and in light of that, Dr. Shyla High, a renowned cardiologist based in Dallas, Texas, has joined us this week to share her medical perspective.

Rachel Rose: It has been said that, "Every journey begins with one step." What is the typical path for patients who are diagnosed with heart disease?

Shyla High: There is no typical path, but it half starts with awareness. Heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer. And, regardless of being male or female, 75 percent of heart disease is preventable and related to life-style changes. Ironically, more women call 911 for their spouse or significant [other] upon the onset of symptoms, than if they themselves have the same symptoms.

RR: In relation to women, what are the most common symptoms that are overlooked?

SH: Progression of disease is increased in women as a result of smoking, which is a significant risk factor. Thirty-five percent of heart attacks occur in women under 60 [years old]. The most common symptoms that are overlooked include: the new onset of unexplained fatigue; new shortness of breath; and unexplained abdominal pain.

RR: What can physicians do to educate patients to recognize symptoms and to implement action steps?

SH: Fifty percent of heart attacks suffered by men and women outside of the hospital are fatal. Moreover, the class symptom of heart disease is tightness in the chest for both men and women; however, women are more likely to experience atypical symptoms such as scapular pain. The primary-care physicians are the "gatekeepers" and their role is vital. Ideally, these physicians, who deal with a lot of women's issues should initiate the conversation. The discussion surrounding the risk of heart disease needs to have a place in the exam room, even if the patient does not mention any symptoms.

RR: What advice do you have for physicians, who are not specialists in cardiology?

SH: Stay up on the latest data because there is still a great deal that is unknown about heart disease, especially in women. And, heart disease in women climbs after [the age of] 50. Overall, medicine is more of an art than an exact since. There is no "cookie cutter" approach to treatment, but awareness is the first step in identifying symptoms and beginning to make life-style changes. After all, 75 percent of heart disease is preventable. And, an ounce of prevention is cheaper than a pound of cure!

Shyla High, MD, is a Dallas-based cardiologist who is globally recognized as an expert in women's heart health. She has just released a new book: "Why Most Women Die ― How Women Can Fight Their #1 Killer: Heart Disease."