Women and heart disease



I'm sure you all know by now that this is a subject near and dear to me. However, in my research of the last few months I've learned that very few women understand the signs and symptoms and a lot of women are not taken seriously by their doctors or ER staff. This is especially alarming because heart disease is the number one killer of women.

A woman's risk of heart disease increases dramatically after the age of 55.

Women are more likely to survive a heart attack than men, but men handle bypass surgery better than women.

Stress tests are only accurate 80% of the time with women. They don't know why. Even invasive procedures, such as heart cathertizations (also called angiograms) aren't as accurate for women.

Symptoms of a heart attack are different for women than for men and are rarely like the dramatic episodes we see on tv. I started having symptoms on Friday. I didn't go to the ER until Monday night and only after a lot of urging by friends. In fact, Monday afternoon I took my daughter to the doctor 30 minutes away. I was having a heart attack and didn't know it.

From an Associated Press article, February 1, 2006:
WASHINGTON — Conventional tests won’t uncover heart disease in as many as 3 million U.S. women — because instead of the usual bulky clogs in main arteries, these women have a hard-to-spot buildup in smaller blood vessels, researchers said yesterday.

These are the women who come to the doctor complaining of chest pain or shortness of breath but are sent away not knowing they’re actually at high risk for a heart attack in the next few years.
"The No. 1 message for women is, ‘Pay attention to your symptoms,’ " said Dr. George Sopko, a heart specialist at the National Institutes of Health, which sponsored the research. "If you don’t have visible blockages, that doesn’t mean you’re not at risk."

Heart disease is the nation’s leading killer of both men and women. In fact, slightly more women than men die of cardiovascular diseases each year — more than 480,000 of them, according to the American Heart Association.

Scientists are struggling to understand some disturbing gender disparities: Women are less likely to receive aggressive treatment for heart disease than men, are less likely to survive heart surgery, and respond differently than men to different risk factors and therapies. They frequently have different symptoms of a heart attack than men do, such as fatigue instead of the classic chest pain radiating down the arm.
Even the test considered best at diagnosing heart disease — angiography, which lets doctors watch as blood flows through key arteries — is less accurate for women than for men.

Yesterday, reviewing recent research, the NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute highlighted why — and how many women are at risk after a misleadingly "clear" angiogram.
In an ongoing study called WISE, the Women’s Ischemia Syndrome Evaluation, researchers have found that about twothirds of women with chest pain pass an angiogram. But about half of them have a condition named "coronary microvascular syndrome," where plaque evenly coats very small arteries instead of forming more-obvious obstructions in larger ones.

Angiograms simply can’t see these tiny arteries, Sopko explained.
The narrowed small arteries mean less oxygen flows to the heart, explaining the women’s chest pain.

But this microvascular syndrome also seems to signal a dysfunction of the lining of the artery’s inner wall, making the blood vessels not dilate the way they’re supposed to in response to stress, said Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz of Cedars-Sinai Medical in Los Angeles, who oversees the WISE study.
"It appears to be primarily a woman’s problem, which is probably why we’ve missed it all these years (that) we didn’t bother to study women," Bairey Merz said, noting that men make up just 20 percent of microvascular syndrome patients.
Other, more-complicated tests can detect microvascular syndrome: measuring whether patients’ arteries dilate properly when they’re injected with certain medications, or performing an MRI scan of the heart.

For more information:


I talked to a woman who has a strong family history of heart disease in the women in her family, yet her doctor refused to perform the tests needed when she was having troubling symptoms.

Ladies, know your bodies and demand the tests that you feel are necessary. Learn the symptoms and risk factors.

Off my soap box now.


Well-Known Member
Thank you! I will be passing this on to my friend who is sure she has a heart problem, but they can not find it. Like your friend, her entire family has heart problems.


It's so frustrating. I was feeling really bad for a long time and was just blown off time and again and it was just getting progressively worse to the point that I was barely functional. In fact, I had put a sheet of paper in my desk at work with emergency contact info on it because I was feeling so poorly and was afraid something might happen. I was thinking it was about a year or so ago. I pulled it out the other day. It had the numbers of the elementary and middle schools on it which means difficult child was in 4th grade and easy child was in 8th. They are now in 7th and 11th, respectively. That means, I had been feeling that bad for at least 2 1/2 years!

In the end I was very lucky. I had a minor heart attack with no permanent heart damage. With the amount of blockages I had, the doctor's said I should have had a massive heart attack resulting in permanent disability or death. If I hadn't gone to the hospital when I did, it probably would have escalated to that point. I almost didn't go because I had just been blown off so many times by doctors and was worried that the doctor's would think I was just a hypochondriac. *I* was beginning to think maybe I was. I no longer care what they think. I know my body.

I've talked to so many women who have expressed the same concerns. One woman has had 3 heart attacks and her doctor still insists it's reflux every time she complains of angina. The last time that happened, she had a heart attack 3 days later. She says she's instructed her sister to have her headstone inscribed with, "I told you it wasn't reflux."

We have to educate ourselves.

Thanks for posting this. There is some history of heart disease in my family. I have a well-visit scheduled for tomorrow. I can't believe it, but it's been over two years since my last one!!! I had one scheduled in July but the doctor's office called just as I was ready to leave and said the appointment had to be rescheduled. (I was good though - I got my labs done and also a bone density test too). So, tomorrow I'll definitely be there!!!

One of the things I was going to ask, was whether a stress test would be a good idea. I'm getting older now and do alot of running and other aerobic activities. I always push myself as hard as I can when I'm working out. Before reading your post, I thought a stress test would be all I would need.

Thanks again for posting this. You're so right - We know our bodies better than any doctor ever will. We know when something isn't right.

It's so unfortunate that as the primary caretakers of difficult children, we always seem to put our own health on the back burner. Thanks for the wake-up call. I know lots of others besides myself probably need it. WFEN


Active Member
Thank you WG. I have had heart problems since I was 23.......still, when I have chest pains I get the patronizing pat of doctors. - and it is always blamed on reflux - despite me having high cholsterol, high BiPolar (BP), and tachycardia! Maddening! We have to be able to believe in ourselves, and not waiver from that conviction when we are talking to a Dr.


WW -

Except for when pregnant with difficult child, I NEVER had heartburn in my life until 3 years ago. It was becoming more and more frequent and then I would also have a general feeling of malaise. Further down the road, it would also be accompanied by abdominal bloating...you could literally watch it. And OTC heartburn medicines did nothing. I remember wondering if you could OD on Tums. That's because it wasn't heartburn, afterall. It was angina. The abdominal bloating was ischemia (lack of blood flow) to that region.