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Patterns of Women’s Heart Disease Different From Men’s

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By Maria Cendejas and editing by Stacey Sexton

Women’s hearts are more likely to maintain their ability to contract and pump blood from the chambers into the arteries, according to C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD, Director of the Women's Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles.  Because of this, heart disease in women affects the small blood vessels rather than the major blood vessels as it does in men.

“That is the reason women are often misdiagnosed and suffer adverse events,” said Dr. Merz. “Physicians have been looking for male pattern disease when we need to start looking at female patterns.   Likewise, more research is needed to develop appropriate treatments and reduce risk in women,” she added.

The heart is never quite as powerful after a heart attack as it was before.  The heart is a muscle; if oxygen is taken away from it, permanent damage is caused that decreases its ability to function.  

The most common symptoms of heart attack in women are the following:

shortness of breath
unusual fatigue
cold sweat
pain or pressure in the back or upper chest
pain or discomfort in one or both arms
discomfort that may be described as pressure, ache, or tightness; may come and go
a burning sensation in the chest or upper abdomen
irregular heartbeat
jaw or throat Pain

According to Dr. Merz, the good news is that it's possible to measure damage to small blood vessels objectively. “The gold standard is reactivity testing, angiograms and other physiologic measures, rather than anatomic study.”

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