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Say you go to the doctor with chest pain. Your doctor checks you out, then tells you there’s nothing to worry about — you’re fine. But in actuality, you’ve had a heart attack.
It sounds like a nightmare. But it’s a nightmare that’s all too real for many women.
We women are more likely to be dismissed when we got to the doctor with distressing symptoms… including potentially life-threatening symptoms like chest pain.
This happens in part because the medical community has a long history of taking women — and our pain — less seriously. But it’s also because women’s bodies are different than men’s, so our symptoms don’t always show up in the same way as theirs do. As a result, serious stuff gets overlooked.
A recent study shows that’s exactly what’s happening to women who have minor heart attacks. They’re being sent home with a clean bill of health, because their heart attack shows up differently than a man’s would.
Microvascular dysfunction: The hidden cause of heart attacks
A National Institutes of Health study led by researchers at the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center in the Smidt Heart Institute found that heart attacks are being overlooked in women, because they aren’t caused by blockages in the major heart arteries — a common cause of heart attacks in men.
The study included 340 women who experienced chest pain in the past, but didn’t have coronary artery blockages.
These women received a cardiac magnetic resonance (CMR) scan, which provides a detailed image of the heart. It turns out, 26 of these women had myocardial scarring, which means they had experienced heart muscle damage at some point in their past.
Most likely, when these women had chest pain, they suffered minor heart attacks that were never diagnosed. They may have received an angiogram that came back clear, no signs of blockages, so their doctor sent them on their way. But angiograms can’t detect the type of heart damage these women experienced.
In other cases, doctors may not have given these women angiograms, because they thought the likelihood they were having a heart attack was too low to warrant it.
“Many women go to the hospital with chest pain but they often aren’t tested for a heart attack because doctors felt they were low-risk,” said Noel Bairey Merz, MD, director of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center in the Smidt Heart Institute. “And they are considered low-risk because their heart disease symptoms are different than the symptoms men experience.”
Researchers say that these women experienced something called microvascular dysfunction, a form of heart disease that affects the tiny vessels around the heart. This can cause heart attacks, just like artery blockages, but it’s a newer medical concept that not as many doctors think about when patients are having chest pain.
Trust your heart
So trust yourself. If you’re having serious pain that a doctor dismisses, go to a different doctor. And always go to the doctor’s office equipped with the knowledge necessary to advocate for your health.
If you go to the doctor with chest pain, and you’re told that you have no blockages, ask about microvascular dysfunction (also known as coronary microvascular disease). Tell your doctor this condition doesn’t show up in angiograms and ask what you can do to rule it out.
You can also do everything in your power to prevent and heal heart damage. A recent study found that taking vitamin D3 could prevent and reverse heart damage. Alpha lipoic acid is another nutrient that can help prevent heart disease. You can get it by eating green leafy vegetables, potatoes and meat or by taking a supplement.
However, the most important way to keep your heart healthy is to exercise daily and eat a healthy diet. Don’t know what diet to choose? Research shows a low-carb Mediterranean diet may be the heart healthy diet you’ve been searching for.
Editor’s note: There are numerous safe and natural ways to decrease your risk of blood clots including the 25-cent vitamin, the nutrient that acts as a natural blood thinner and the powerful herb that helps clear plaque. To discover these and more, click here for Hushed Up Natural Heart Cures and Common Misconceptions of Popular Heart Treatments!
- Women once considered low risk for heart disease show evidence of previous heart attack scars — MedicalXpress. Retrieved February 21, 2018.
- Microvascular Disease/Endothelial Dysfunction — The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease. Retrieved February 21, 2018.