Women and Coronary Disease
Coronary artery disease is the nation's leading killer and occurs when the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become hardened and narrowed because of plaque buildup in the artery walls. This buildup of plaque is also known as atherosclerosis. As the plaque buildup increases, the coronary arteries get narrower with less area for blood flow. The blood carries oxygen to the heart muscle, and reduced blood flow results in reduced oxygen to the heart muscle. This can result in angina (chest discomfort when the heart is not getting enough blood) or a heart attack.
The gold standard for diagnosing coronary artery disease is a coronary angiogram (or a cardiac catheterization). In some women who have symptoms of angina or a heart attack, coronary artery disease may not be visible in the coronary arteries when looking at them by a coronary angiogram. The coronary arteries can appear "normal" by an angiogram, yet they may still have coronary plaques. Recent data has shown that this occurs in about two-thirds of women with signs and symptoms of heart disease. This is known as coronary microvascular syndrome. This syndrome is described as a diffuse or evenly spread buildup of plaque in the main coronary arteries and in a network of tiny vessels called microvasculature. To compensate for the diffuse buildup of plaque, the artery walls grow outward so that the arteries appear open or patent on angiogram. It is not clear why women seem prone to coronary microvascular syndrome, though it may be linked to hormonal imbalances and a greater tendency towards developing inflammation, which plays a role in artery disease.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Center for Coronary Disease at the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute focuses on treating patients before they develop a fatal heart attack with the most advanced strategies available in the world. Mark J. Ricciardi, MD, medical director of the Center for Coronary Disease and the director of Cardiac Catheterization Labs and Interventional Cardiology. Dr. Ricciardi leads the team of renowened cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons that work together to treat patients who may be at risk for, or those who have already had a heart attack. Patients with chest pain, abnormal stress tests, strong family histories of coronary disease or other risk factors are carefully evaluated with the latest technologies.
The goal for every patient is a treatment that is long-lasting, low-risk, and as minimally invasive as possible. Treatment strategies include comprehensive lipid (cholesterol management) protocols, angioplasty, and coronary arterial bypass surgery maximizing the use of longer lasting arterial grafts. We continue to invest in medical technology to expand our comprehensive approach to the detection and treatment of cardiovascular disease.
Ongoing clinical research trials in the clinical application of new drugs and devices, in the genetic basis of coronary disease, and in the outcomes of all of the various treatments used, assure that our patients receive the latest and best treatment.
For more information regarding coronary disease, please contact the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at 312-NM-HEART (664-3278) or request a first time appointment online.
For more information regarding clinical trials related to coronary disease, please view the Clinical Trials Unit of Northwestern page, send an email or call 312-926-4000.