Spotlight on Women's Health

Dr. Rita Redberg

An Interview About Heart Health: Drs. Dhruva and Redberg

February 26, 2017

How much do you know about keeping your heart healthy? Not sure? That’s okay! We’ve got you covered. For American Heart Month, we asked cardiologists Drs. Sanket Dhruva and Rita Redberg (pictured) our top questions about heart disease and how to keep your heart in tip-top shape. Read this interview to get the heart health information you need for a longer, healthier life.

Sanket S. Dhruva, M.D., is a cardiologist and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at Yale University School of Medicine. Rita F. Redberg, M.D., M.Sc., is a cardiologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

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Q: What’s the first thing you want women to know about heart disease?


Dr. Sanket S. Dhruva, M.D.

A: Because heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, it is important for all women to know how they can lower their risk of heart disease with some small lifestyle changes. This means eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; regular physical activity (ideally both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities); not smoking; and enjoying life and staying socially connected to others. For women who do have or develop heart disease, these steps also will slow down progression.


Q: What puts women at risk for heart disease?

A: Common conditions that increase heart disease risk in women include diabetes and high blood pressure, which are associated with obesity and physical inactivity. Genetics and family history — things a woman can’t change — also play a role. Also, women who smoke, aren’t physically active, don’t follow a heart-healthy diet, and have significant stress may have increased heart disease risk. Heart disease risk also increases with age.

Q: Are there steps women can take to lower their risk?

A: Absolutely. The key steps are eating a heart-healthy diet; regular physical activity (aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week); and not smoking. Additionally, it is important for women to maintain friendships and feel socially connected. This is particularly important as they age, as many older women live alone. Women might consider joining clubs, taking classes, and engaging in leisure activities where they interact with other people. Social connectedness and camaraderie have been linked to lower risk of heart disease.

Q: Do you have any specific heart-healthy eating tips?

A: Yes. A heart-healthy diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It also includes nuts and healthy fats, like those found in olive oil, avocadoes, and fatty fish. Women should avoid processed foods, sugary drinks, and red meats. Drink alcohol only in moderation.

Q: What advice do you have for women who are having trouble making heart-healthy choices?

A: Make one change at a time. Completely revamping a lifestyle can be difficult and feel overwhelming. Remember that even small changes will reduce risk for heart disease. Make these changes at a comfortable, doable pace. It can be helpful to make changes with friends or loved ones, such as walking together. Some people like to use apps or wearable devices to track their activities and calories. Over time, you will ultimately arrive at a sustainable, heart-healthy lifestyle, which will help you live a healthier, longer life.

Q: How should women talk to their doctors about heart health?

A: Ask questions about lifestyle — particularly diet, physical activity, weight, social interaction, and stress. There may be opportunities to improve these healthy lifestyle basics. Women should remember that a heart-healthy lifestyle also reduces the risk of other chronic diseases, including diabetes, many types of cancer, lung disease, and dementia.

Q: What should women with a family history of heart disease know?

A: A family history of heart disease is defined as a father who developed heart disease before the age of 45 or a mother who developed heart disease before the age of 55. Even women with a positive family history for heart disease can significantly reduce that risk by following a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Q: What are the symptoms of a heart attack in women?

A: The symptoms of a heart attack in women are severe chest pain, tightness, or pressure. In addition to chest discomfort, women may also experience shortness of breath; radiation of pain in the neck, back, jaw, or down the arm; cold sweats; unusual or unexplained fatigue; dizziness or light-headedness; or unexplained nausea or vomiting.

Q: If women experience any of these symptoms, what should they do?

A: A woman experiencing these symptoms should call 911 if they occur suddenly and do not resolve within several minutes. Women who develop these symptoms more gradually, such as with physical activity or stress, should speak with their doctor.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

A: There are many weapons to fight heart disease, but the most powerful thing you can do is live a heart-healthy lifestyle. Any woman can take important steps to live healthier and feel better.

The statements and opinions in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health.