Undetected heart disease

Basic tests fail to recognize a sneakier form of heart disease.

Published February 2, 2006 12:04PM (EST)

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in women older than 25, but according to a study released Tuesday, basic angiograms will fail to detect the disease in an estimated 3 million women.

The culprit? Coronary microvascular syndrome. In laymens terms: plaque that coats arteries that are so small as to be unrecognizable by an angiogram that could easily detect obstructions in larger arteries.

According to the Associated Press, the Women's Ischemia Syndrome Evaluation has found that roughly two-thirds of women with chest pain pass an angiogram, but half of those women have this sneakier form of heart disease.

The AP highlights some other disturbing facts: "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."

The key message here? "Pay attention to your symptoms," said Dr. George Sopko of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. "If you don't have visible blockages, that doesn't mean you're not at risk."

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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