Winning Hearts and Minds
Cardiologist Courtney Jordan Baechler talks about women’s health disparities, the mind-body connection, and her go-to wellness tips.
When she’s not seeing patients, Dr. Courtney Jordan Baechler, Minneapolis Heart Institute’s medical director of health equity and promotion, can be found at local community events to get the word out about the glaring gender and racial disparities in cardiovascular health. We caught up with her at the photo shoot for our new monthly series featuring forward-thinking women, presented by Evereve, on her way to speak to a group at the YMCA in North Minneapolis.
Are we really that far behind in women’s heart health?
Big picture, women’s heart disease is still underdiagnosed. Women are underrepresented in studies, they’re undertreated when we finally get to the point to know they have heart disease, and unfortunately, they still have higher mortality rates. In recent years, we have actually seen an increase in heart disease, and heart disease death, in women between ages 35 and 44. And just to be crystal clear, the women who experience the largest disparities are in BIPOC communities.
Is it still thought of as a man’s disease?
Yeah. And there have been a fair amount of educational campaigns to help women understand that the most likely thing they would die from is heart disease and not breast cancer, but there continues to be a huge misunderstanding. We’ve seen, when we poll women, their awareness has actually gone down in recent years, not up.
What else should we know?
I think most women don’t understand that, oftentimes, risks start developing in pregnancy and post-pregnancy. Things like high blood pressure in pregnancy, gestational diabetes, and preterm birth all increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and they can increase it by 25 percent. So it’s super substantial. But right now, many of us don’t get the necessary care, risk reduction, and treatment plans if needed after these risks develop in pregnancy.
Why is that?
We don’t make it easy for people to navigate health care, particularly for young moms balancing children and a career.
What can we do?
Part of the problem is definitely getting the word out and increasing awareness, which is why I’m really excited about Evereve’s partnership with you. To be successful, it’s going to take different solutions that are generated not just by researchers, not just by doctors, but by the women who are experiencing the disparities to say how best we get there.
It’s February, National Heart Month, Valentine’s Day. How can we give ourselves more love?
Normally, for cardiovascular health we talk about diet and exercise, but we don’t talk about the role of our mental health. There is a lot of data on the importance of improving our mental health and decreasing the risk of heart disease. We have to exercise this like we exercise our body . . . positive thinking, gratitude, aromatherapy, music, meditation, and yoga are all great options to try.
What is your favorite wellness practice?
As I get older, I find the most important to me is getting outside. When I’m outside, I feel I’m a part of something bigger and I feel a sense of calm. The seasonal variations (the crisp winter nights, the sounds of fallen leaves on the ground, and the smell of spring) remind me the world continues to turn despite whatever emotion I felt that day.