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Coronary artery disease in women

What is it?

Coronary artery disease (CAD) is when the arteries of the heart are partly or totally blocked by plaque (plak). You may have a lot of plaque because it runs in your family. Eating high fat foods may also cause plaque buildup. CAD is the leading cause of death in women in the United States. The rate of death is especially high for African-American women. CAD may cause you to have a heart attack or stroke. The risk of death from heart disease is 4 to 6 times higher than from breast cancer.

How is CAD different for women?

  • Women with CAD are less likely to have chest pain than men.
  • Women may be older than men when they first have symptoms.
  • Women may wait longer to get help.
  • Women may not be diagnosed correctly.
  • Treatment may be delayed and some procedures may not be offered to women.
  • Women are not always offered treatment that may help them live longer, such as medicines and cardiac rehabilitation.
  • Women receive less information and advice from their doctors about heart disease and how to prevent it than men.

What are the risk factors for CAD in women?

  • Depression or anxiety.
  • Diabetes.
  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Post-menopausal.
  • Not active.
  • Overweight and obesity.
  • Smoking.

What are the symptoms of CAD in women? Symptoms of CAD may be general. The following symptoms are common with women:

  • Tiredness or weakness.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Back or shoulder pain or discomfort.
  • Chest pressure, pain, or discomfort
  • Discomfort in the arms, neck, jaw, or teeth.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • A feeling that something bad is about to happen.

Medical Care:

Tests may be done to learn if you have blockage in your heart arteries. You may need to take medicine to decrease cholesterol. You may need to go into the hospital for tests and treatment. Surgery may be needed if tests show you have serious blockage of your heart arteries.

Dietary Measures:

  • A vegetarian diet decreases heart disease risk.
  • Fiber in your diet decreases cholesterol and heart disease risk.
  • Avoid saturated fats that increase heart disease risk.
  • Use olive oil in your cooking as it may decrease heart disease risk.
  • Eating onion, garlic, and soy may improve heart disease and high cholesterol.

Herbs and Supplements:

Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.

Herbs:

  • Artichoke (Cynarae folium) extract may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum - graecum) may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Garlic (Allium sativum) may decrease cholesterol. Fresh garlic is likely more helpful in lowering cholesterol than garlic pills.
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale) may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Guggul (Commiphora mukul) may be helpful in lowering cholesterol. Read the label on the bottle carefully. Be sure the label says each pill contains 4% gugulsterones.

Supplements:

  • Arginine may be helpful for coronary artery disease and has been studied in people.
  • Calcium is helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Chitosan may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Chromium may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Fish oil (DHA, EPA) is helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Gamma oryzanol may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Guar gum may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people. It works best when used with cholesterol-lowering medicine.
  • Lecithin may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Niacin lowers cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Plant sterols and stanols (Beta-sitosterol) may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Policosanol may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Tocotrienols may be helpful for coronary artery disease and has been studied in people.
  • Vitamin B5 (pantethine) may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.
  • Vitamin C may be helpful for coronary artery disease and has been studied in people.
  • Vitamin E may be helpful for high cholesterol and has been studied in people.

Complementary Therapies:

  • Acupuncture may help coronary artery disease.
  • Relaxation techniques and meditation may help coronary artery disease.
  • Yoga may help coronary artery disease.

Other ways of treating your symptoms :

Talk to your caregiver if:

  • You would like medicine to treat your heart disease.
  • Your symptoms have not gone away or improved by these self-help measures.
  • You feel light-headed or faint.
  • You feel like your heart is pounding or racing.
  • You have questions about what you have read in this document.

SEEK CARE IMMEDIATELY IF:

  • Call 911 or 0 (operator) if you have the following signs or symptoms that may mean you are having a heart attack. Do not drive yourself to the hospital. (1) Crushing chest pressure or pain in the center of the chest that spreads to your shoulders, arms, jaw, neck, or back. The pain may be like a burning feeling that feels like heartburn. Chest pain may last more than a few minutes or the pain may go away and come back. (2) Cold sweats or sweating. (3) Feeling short of breath.

Care Agreement:

You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

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Last Updated: 11/4/2014

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