New Guidelines Focus on Women's Unique Issues Regarding Heart Disease

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • As a woman, you tend to be at risk for non-obstructive coronary artery disease. And finally, the medical community is starting to realize this critical piece of information.


    So why is this important? The American Heart Association pointed out that heart disease is the top killer of women and is actually more deadly than cancer. However, the medical community has been using the model of coronary heart disease that was developed looking men. This model focuses on obstructive coronary artery disease. However, women who didn’t have this form of coronary artery disease were not being diagnosed and, thus, didn’t receive the appropriate treatment which placed them at an increased their risk of heart attack.

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    Therefore, the American Heart Disease just published a new statement that uses gender-specific research to clarify the roles that non-obstructive coronary artery disease (which is more common in women) as well as obstructive coronary artery disease play in contributing to ischemic heart disease. Non-obstructive coronary artery disease and coronary microvascular disease occur when small arteries or the inner lining of the heart’s main arteries are damaged, thus causing the affected arteries to spasm and block the blood flow.


    Researchers found that the women who have non-obstructive coronary artery disease and who have abnormal results on their stress tests are actually at risk for a heart attack, but previously were not receiving treatments to lower their risk. Additionally, researchers learned that women experience a broader range of ischemic heart disease symptoms than men do. These symptoms can include jaw pain, upper back pain, widespread indigestion and other symptoms that are not localized to the chest. Women also can display the classic symptoms of having pain or pressure on the left side of the chest. And interestingly, women’s symptoms are frequently associated with mental or emotional stress whereas men’s tend to be due to physical exertion.


    To better address the issues that women face, the American Heart Association’s statement made the following recommendations:

    • Women who have suspected ischemic heart disease should discuss with their doctor about the benefits and risks of diagnostic tests.
    • The doctor should evaluate whether a woman is at low, intermediate or high risk of heart disease based on age and other risk factors (such as high blood pressure and diabetes) prior to doing diagnostic tests.
    • Doctors should consider a woman’s functional ability to handle activities of daily living to determine the proper diagnostic testing.  Women who have a low level of functional ability are considered to have an increased risk for a heart attack.
    • The researchers recommend that women who have the lowest risk of ischemic heart disease should not have diagnostic testing. In comparison, women who have a slightly higher risk should first do a treadmill exercise electrocardiogram. Women who are symptomatic and are displaying warning signs may be best assessed through cardiac magnetic resonance imaging or cardiac computed tomography angiography.

    While the risk of heart disease does increase with age, lifestyle choices – like being sedentary and overeating – can set women up for heart disease. Therefore, the American Heart Association recommends focusing on Life’s Simple 7 to manage your risk for heart disease. These recommendations include the following:

    • Be active by getting at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days or more each week.
    • Control your cholesterol, which helps arteries remain clear of blockages.
    • Eat a healthy diet that includes vegetables, fruit, low-fat dairy, whole grains and lean meats, including fish.
    • Manage high blood pressure through diet, regular physical activity, stress management, avoiding tobacco smoke, and limiting alcohol.
    • Lose weight if you have too much fat around your waist.
    • Reduce blood sugar through regular physical activity, taking treatments that are prescribed and avoiding simple sugars in foods and beverages.
    • Stop smoking.

    Primary Sources for This Website:

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    American Heart Association. (2014). Gender-specific research improves accuracy of heart disease diagnosis in women.


    Go Red for Women. (ND). Common myths about heart disease.

     

    Go Red for Women. (ND). Life's Simple 7.

Published On: June 17, 2014