MHI Cardiologist and MHIF Researcher, Dr. Retu Saxena was not only selected as one of Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine’s 2019 Top Doctors, but she was one of five doctors featured in a special write-up! Here is her excerpt:
A woman, 36 weeks pregnant, checked into a Twin Cities emergency room because she wasn’t feeling well and was having chest discomfort. After an exam, she was on the verge of discharge to home follow-up when her partner mentioned that the patient’s father had died from a heart attack at a relatively young age. The ER doctor immediately admitted her for observation and called cardiologist Dr. Retu Saxena to discuss what had seemed to be an abnormal test result. It indicated the patient, who was young and otherwise healthy, was having a heart attack.
According to Saxena, a test result like this is far from uncommon. “Women may be at risk for having symptoms as well as cardiac events during and after pregnancy,” Saxena says. A subsequent angiogram revealed “a very tight blockage in the patient’s artery.” Doctors rushed to open the blockage, inserted a stent, and then were able to send the patient home to recover. A few weeks later, she delivered a beautiful, healthy girl.
The ending could have been far different, Saxena says. “The number-one maternal cause of death is heart disease. There are a lot of women who die each year while pregnant.”
This young ER patient was diagnosed with a rare condition that leads to early coronary artery disease. Now, with Saxena’s help, she’s managing her risk and disease. “I like to tell her story, because it illustrates what women go through and how they have to advocate for themselves,” Saxena says.
Simply put, women’s hearts are different from men’s, and Saxena is working to build greater knowledge about the kinds of heart issues women experience. While heart disease has long been the number-one killer of men and women in the United States, Saxena says there is a lack of research on the sex-specific differences in how heart disease manifests. For instance, she says, “We are still not quite certain why women get broken-heart syndrome (stress-induced cardiomyopathy) more than men. That’s where your heart is acting like it’s having a heart attack, but you actually don’t have any blockages.”
Saxena and her colleagues at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation are working to fill the knowledge gap and increase awareness of heart disease through the development of a Women’s Heart Science Center. They also are working with OB-GYN and family practice doctors to share insights about and strategies for addressing cardiovascular risks that are specific to pregnant women. “Women often present with different symptoms from men—shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, overwhelming fatigue—but they can still have typical chest discomfort,” she says.
“In cardiology, we are getting better at advancing our understanding of heart disease by our ability to image and evaluate the heart in every way,” she says. A heart scan that takes only three to five minutes and has minimal radiation can expose potential cardiac issues. “With our ability to look at the heart in probably every possible aspect—three-dimensionally as well as understanding what’s happening to the heart tissue—we are able to make a diagnosis,” she says. “As we get better at seeing the heart, we hopefully will be able to intervene prior to the late stages in disease. It has really transformed both prevention and management of heart disease.”
View the full feature story online here: http://mspmag.com/health-and-fitness/top-doctors-in-the-twin-cities-2019/