Blocked arteries aren’t the only things causing heart attacks in women

Blocked arteries aren’t the only things causing heart attacks in women

People commonly think a heart attack is caused from a blockage in one of the arteries of the heart, but a new study proves this may not always be the case in women.

Recently, the Circulation journal by the American Heart Association published a study indicating women can have a heart attack regardless of whether they have a blocked artery or not, unlike their male counterparts, whose primary cause is a blocked artery.

The study surveyed 340 women who reported chest pains and did not have blocked heart arteries. The women underwent a cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)  procedure for the heart. The results found that eight percent of women who had chest pain and no blocked arteries did, in fact, have scars on their heart signifying they had a heart attack.

“Often, the symptoms of a heart attack in women are not the ‘classic’, crushing chest pain everyone envisions,” says Dr. Shermeen Memon, a cardiologist with the Advocate Heart Institute at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., who specializes in reading MRIs of the heart.

“In women, symptoms of heart attacks can present as chest discomfort or tightness, indigestion, back, arm, or neck pain, or fatigue, just to name a few presenting symptoms. Not all chest pain indicates a heart attack; however, chest pain should never be ignored.”

One third of the women who had scars on their heart from the study were never diagnosed with a heart attack, even though the scans illustrated damage to their heart muscle.

“It’s always important to listen to your body and take chest discomfort, shortness of breath or any new symptoms seriously,” says Dr. Memon. “It is important to determine what the causes of those symptoms are to ensure you are provided the correct treatment.”

According to Dr. Memon, these are some of the lesser-known heart conditions to which women could be susceptible:

  • Women have a higher risk of developing “broken heart syndrome”, which is caused by the sudden release of stress hormones during stressful events. This syndrome can cause acute heart failure or stunning of the heart.
  • Women are also at higher risk of developing spontaneous coronary artery dissections, which can occur during pregnancy or during extreme stress. This results in the vessel suddenly tearing due to stress on the vessel wall.
  • Chest pain in women could also be secondary to spasms of the heart arteries and often present with symptoms similar to a heart attack.

Dr. Memon adds that it is important to live a heart-healthy lifestyle which includes a balanced diet, exercise and providing your body with enough rest to help prevent any heart disease, whether it be due to a blocked artery or other cause.

Find out your risk for heart disease by taking our simple and easy Heart Risk Assessment.

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About the Author

Marrison Worthington
Marrison Worthington

Marrison Worthington, health enews contributor, is a public affairs and marketing manager at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Illinois. She is a graduate of Illinois State University and has several years of global corporate communications experience under her belt. Marrison loves spending her free time traveling, reading organizational development blogs, trying new cooking recipes, and playing with her golden retriever, Ari.