Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the U.S. and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined, killing approximately one woman every minute [1]. Coronary artery disease (CAD), the most common form of heart disease, is equally alarming, causing one in every seven deaths in the U.S. [2]. CAD is caused by the buildup of fatty deposits in the heart arteries.

When plaque blocks more than 50 percent of an artery, it is considered obstructive coronary artery disease. Since a woman's risk of CAD increases with her age, it's crucial to understand the symptoms -- and know that they may differ from symptoms shown in men.


Women may not experience the typical indicators of CAD that men commonly do, such as chest pain or shortness of breath. Instead, women frequently experience less obvious symptoms that may indicate CAD, but could also stem from other, less serious conditions including heartburn, stress, and anxiety. However, when it comes to the heart, even mild symptoms can be big indicators [3].

Symptoms of CAD in women include: generalized weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness; nausea with or without vomiting; heartburn, indigestion or abdominal discomfort; awareness of heartbeat (palpitations); tightness or pressure in the throat, jaw, shoulder, abdomen, back, or arm; and/or a burning sensation in the upper body [3].

Testing options for CAD in women are as diverse as the symptoms themselves. Women have several testing options for coronary artery disease including:

A sex-specific blood test that takes into consideration the cardiovascular differences between men and women to help doctors rule-out obstructive CAD

An exercise stress test consisting of a half-hour treadmill session where the heart rate is monitored
An electrocardiogram measuring the heart's electrical activity
A nuclear stress test which utilizes imaging
An echocardiogram using sound waves
A magnetic resonance angiography using magnetic fields and radio waves
A coronary calcium scan using x-rays
An invasive coronary angiography which is a surgical procedure
To empower women to be proactive in discussing their heart health and testing options with their healthcare providers, the Society for Women's Health Research (SWHR®) has teamed up with CardioDx on a new patient advocacy campaign, Go Spread the Word. The campaign educates women and those who love them about CAD signs and symptoms, helps women identify questions they should be asking their healthcare providers, and empowers women to ask about which testing options may be safer and more convenient for them.

Take action now to Spread the Word about CAD:
Observe preventive measures, such as maintaining a healthy body weight with a nutritious diet and regular exercise

Use the Symptoms Checklist to see if you are at risk for CAD

Talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms and about your testing options

Be a champion of change and help raise awareness about CAD in women by visiting and learning more about the Spread the Word campaign atwww.GoSpreadtheWord.com. To learn more about SWHR's work on heart health, visit www.swhr.org.

References:
1. American Heart Association. Facts about Cardiovascular Disease in Women. Available at www.goredforwomen.org/home/about-heart-disease-in-women/facts-about-heart-disease/. Last accessed on December 18, 2014.
2. Mozaffarian D, Benjamin EJ, Go AS, et al. On Behalf of the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics - 2015 Update: A Report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2015;131(4):e29-e322.
3. http://www.gospreadtheword.com/

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