Heart disease is the number one cause of death among women in the U.S., though much of the research and education campaigns are targeted toward men. Sahar Naderi, MD, a cardiologist and head of the Women’s Heart Health Center at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco, aims to change that by raising awareness of women’s risk for heart disease and the rare cardiovascular conditions that disproportionately impact them.
“We want to educate and empower our female members with accurate information about their potential risk for heart disease and ways they can stay heart healthy,” said Dr. Naderi.
Dr. Naderi is one of only a small handful of cardiologists in the U.S. who specialize in spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD, a relatively rare condition that causes heart attacks in younger women. She also specializes in cardiovascular conditions of pregnancy, including genetic cardiovascular conditions that impact pregnancy and other cardiovascular diseases that disproportionately affect women.
Since the center opened in April 2020, Dr. Naderi has treated around 150 patients and expects to see that number increase.
Dr. Naderi leads research to help understand why women are affected by these rare cardiovascular diseases at higher rates. Although most risk factors for heart disease are the same for women and men, women have unique components that can raise their risk, including hormone shifts related to pregnancy or menopause.
“Kaiser Permanente recognizes the great clinical and research need for women’s heart health,” she said. “Historically, the medical community has underserved women in this area, but we are working to change that.”
Kaiser Permanente’s unique model of connected care also helps fight heart disease on multiple fronts. Nurses, front-line physicians, and cardiovascular technicians are “well versed in the impact of heart disease on women, whether it is a rare or more common cardiovascular condition, ensuring early recognition of heart disease in women,” said Dr. Naderi.
Although there is no magic cure-all to prevent heart disease, Dr. Naderi said she works with her patients on ways to help reduce risk, one of the most important being living a healthy lifestyle.
This includes not smoking, exercising most days of the week for 30 to 45 minutes, and eating heart-healthy foods like those in a Mediterranean or plant-based diet — all factors that reduce risks of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, which can lead to cardiovascular disease.
Also high on the list is reducing stress, which many are experiencing high levels of during the pandemic. Dr. Naderi said a large proportion of her patients have had emotional or physical stressors negatively impacting their heart health.
“It’s very important to dedicate time for mental wellness during these uncertain times,” she said, adding that Kaiser Permanente digital self-care tools such as Calm and myStrength are excellent resources. “Connecting with loved ones in creative ways is a great way to enrich your life and prevent isolation from affecting your mental wellness.”
Learn more about cardiac care at Kaiser Permanente.