Helped identify different heart attack symptoms women experience
Female Cardiologist of the Year
Director of Barbara Streisand Women’s Heart Center, Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute
Pioneer in Medicine Award Recipient
Image Source: NIH (CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED)
Every year, over one third of deaths in women over age 20 in the US are caused by heart disease. In the 1950s and 60s, more men died of heart disease than women. In the 1980s, this trend reversed. Rather than accepting these statistics, some cardiologists tried to understand the causes behind this change. Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz is one of those doctors.
In 1991, another female cardiologist, Dr. Bernadine Healy, suggested that the reason women were dying of heart disease at higher rates than men was because myocardial infarctions – heart attacks – present differently in women than in men. Merz began a meta analysis of many studies that had been conducted on heart disease. She found that nearly all approaches for dealing with and treating heart disease up to that time were developed almost solely from men. Merz also discovered that women who presented with the same symptoms as men during a heart attack were considerably more likely to receive appropriate treatment and survive. But the majority of women who present with different symptoms – shortness of breath over several weeks, back pain, jaw pain, nausea, and general fatigue are most the most common symptoms – were often misdiagnosed and had a much lower survival rate.
These findings led Mertz and other cardiologists to explore how women’s bodies react differently to heart disease. This work helped identify the different symptoms women exhibit, the different ways disease present in diagnostic tests, and different treatment approaches. Merz also specializes in preventive cardiology – developing a holistic approach to inhibit heart disease in women.
Merz is the Director of the Barbara Streisand Women’s Heart Center and the Director of both the Preventive and Rehabilitative Cardiac Center in the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, where she is also a professor of medicine. She earned her MD from Harvard Medical School and has published over 180 papers about women’s health. In 2008, she was named Female Cardiologist of the Year and in 2020 was awarded the Cedars Sinai Pioneer in Medicine Award.
Written by Nicole Hutchison