Hidden Heart Disease Found in Women

MARCH 01, 2006

The findings in a series of articles published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and Circulation revealed that women are more likely than men to have a hidden type of heart disease. This disease involves heart muscles that are starved for oxygen, even though the coronary arteries appear to be free of blockages on x-rays. This condition, which may affect as many as 3 million American women, greatly increases their risk of having a heart attack. Its main symptom is chest pain, but no warning signs show up on angiograms, so in most cases doctors conclude that no treatment is needed. Many of these patients, however, go on to develop heart failure.

George Sopko, MD, of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, said that these patients definitely need to be treated for this condition. A woman's reaction to a heart attack can differ greatly from a man's. Men traditionally experience crushing chest pain, whereas women are more likely to experience dizziness, shortness of breath, and sweating.

The best way for women to discover whether they have this condition is to undergo specific types of tests, including stress tests that measure the flow of blood to the heart. Researchers emphasize that only women with symptoms, a family history of heart disease, or severe risk factors need to be concerned.