Barbara Walters gets to the heart of the matter.

Since February is American Heart Month, it is appropriate that Barbara Walters would air a Barbara Walters Special entitled “A Matter of Life and Death” to be aired on Friday, February 4th at 10 p.m. EST.  Walters will speak with President Bill Clinton, David Letterman, Regis Philbin, Robin Williams and Charlie Rose, who all went from being in the spotlight to being in the operating room for life-and-death open heart surgery. Normally a very private person, Walters even opens up about her own heart surgery in a “behind the scenes” view of her surgical journey. In addition, she talks to doctors, including her own, about what viewers, especially women, need to know about heart disease to save themselves and their loved ones. Cardiovascular disease kills more than 450,000 women a year, more than the next five causes of death combined, including cancer.

Just as we at Celebrity Diagnosis know the power of celebrity to promote health care, Walters knew that celebrities could help get her message across. “I didn’t want people to feel that this was going to be an hour lecture,” she said. “To have these very famous, and in some cases very funny, people, meant that they would watch.”

According to the CDC: Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of disability. The most common heart disease in the United States is coronary heart disease, which often appears as a heart attack. In 2010, an estimated 785,000 Americans had a new coronary attack, and about 470,000 had a recurrent attack. About every 25 seconds, an American will have a coronary event, and about one every minute will die from one.

Research has shown that 80% of heart attacks in women are preventable if women make the right choices for their hearts, such as changing their eating habits, getting regular exercise and managing their cholesterol and blood pressure.

Signs a heart attack may be happening:

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. This feeling may occur with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs of discomfort. These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
  • As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

If you or someone you are with has chest discomfort, especially with one or more of the other signs, don’t wait longer than five minutes before calling 9-1-1 for help.

Celebrity Diagnosis stories about heart disease in the above celebrities:

Barbara Walters opens up her heart on The View.

Bill Clinton Hospitalized for chest pain.

Robin Williams and Barbara Bush both undergo heart valve surgery

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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