This heart condition is most often missed in women. Here's how to spot the signs

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Wednesday, March 27, 2024
This heart condition is often missed in women. How to spot signs
Women are much more likely to experience coronary microvascular dysfunction. Here are symptoms to look out for.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Doctors know how to spot large artery blockages when someone is experiencing heart attack symptoms, but often not those in the smaller heart vessels. Women are much more likely to experience this type of heart disease, which is called coronary microvascular dysfunction.

As the CEO of WomenHeart.Org, Celina Gorre champions heart disease awareness in women. So when the feeling of neck fullness and fatigue hit hard, she said, "I was convinced I had a blockage in my neck."

She headed straight to the hospital nearly a dozen times, only to be sent home undiagnosed.

"The conclusion of those ER docs was that I was having a particularly hard day," said Gorre.

The norm is for doctors to test only larger arteries for disease, but the problem was in Gorre 's small blood vessels. Studies show gender makes a difference in testing and treatment because coronary microvascular dysfunction occurs almost exclusively in women. Often CMD remains un diagnosed - but it's an easy test.

"So, it's very simple. It's an additional five to seven minutes extra on top of a regular diagnostic cardiac catheterization," said Dr. Hayder Hashim, an interventional cardiologist with Medstar Washington Hospital Center.

CMD occurs when the inner walls of the heart's smallest arteries are damaged, causing spasms that disrupt blood flow.

Symptoms of CMD can vary, but the most prevalent symptoms are chest pain, shortness of breath and fatigue.

While researchers investigate new treatments, management of CMD includes blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes control, weight loss and quitting smoking if you are a smoker.

Testing for CMD is not routine because it wasn't an official diagnosis. Hashim recently testified before the Centers for Disease Control in an effort to change that, and he was successful.

"The CDC approved it as a diagnosis, as of October 1st, 2023, that this disease of the microcirculation of the capillaries, is now a recognized diagnosis," said Hashim.

Good news for both Gorre and the 65% of heart patients with CMD who otherwise would go undiagnosed and untreated.

Researchers are compiling a registry of coronary microvascular disease symptoms and diagnoses that could soon become a national database to provide more information for clinicians.

MORE: What women can do to reduce their risk from heart disease

Temple Health hopes to control heart disease in women with a program aimed just at women.