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Coronary Artery Disease in Women
Coronary artery disease (CAD)
, or heart disease, occurs when arteries that supply blood to your heart become narrow or blocked. CAD is caused by plaque (cholesterol, fat, and other substances) that builds up in your arteries. Oxygen cannot get to your heart when your arteries narrow or become blocked, which may be life-threatening.
Common signs and symptoms of CAD in women:
You may not have any symptoms at first. Symptoms may begin slowly but increase quickly as plaque builds up in your arteries. You may not notice symptoms until the artery starts to become blocked. Women often do not have the common signs and symptoms that men tend to have. You may have any of the following:
- Chest pain or a tight, heavy, burning feeling in your chest
- Pain in your back, neck, stomach, or jaw
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Indigestion, heartburn, or loss of appetite
- Fast, slow, or pounding heartbeat
- Feeling more tired or weak than usual
Call your local emergency number (911 in the US), or have someone call if:
- You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:
- Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest
- You may also have any of the following:
- Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or a sudden cold sweat
Seek care immediately if:
- You have chest pain that happens often.
- You have chest pain at rest.
Call your doctor if:
- You feel depressed or anxious.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
Medicines used to treat CAD:
- Blood pressure medicines are given to lower your blood pressure. These medicines may include ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers. ACE inhibitors help keep your blood vessels relaxed and open. This helps keep blood flowing into your heart. Beta-blockers keep your heart pumping strongly and regularly. This helps keep your heart from working too hard to get oxygen.
- Cholesterol medicines help lower blood cholesterol levels.
- Nitrates , such as nitroglycerin, relax the arteries of your heart so it gets more oxygen. Nitrates may also help relieve your chest pain.
- Diuretics help your body get rid of extra fluid and protect your heart from more damage. You may urinate more often while you are taking diuretics.
- Antiplatelets , such as aspirin, help prevent blood clots. Take your antiplatelet medicine exactly as directed. These medicines make it more likely for you to bleed or bruise. If you are told to take aspirin, do not take acetaminophen or ibuprofen instead.
- Blood thinners keep clots from forming in your blood. Clots may cause heart attacks, strokes, or death. This medicine makes it more likely for you to bleed or bruise.
- Do not take certain medicines without asking your healthcare provider first. These include NSAIDs, herbal or vitamin supplements, or hormones (estrogen or progestin).
Procedures used to treat CAD:
- An angioplasty may be done to open an artery blocked by plaque. A tube with a balloon on the end is threaded into the blocked artery. When the tube is in the artery, the balloon is inflated. As the balloon inflates, it presses the plaque against the artery wall to open the artery. A stent may be placed in your artery to keep it open.
- Coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG) is open heart surgery. Healthcare providers take arteries or veins from other areas in your body and use them to bypass or go around the blocked arteries of your heart.
Your healthcare provider may recommend that you attend cardiac rehabilitation (rehab). This is a program run by specialists who will help you safely strengthen your heart and prevent more heart disease. The plan includes exercise, relaxation, stress management, and heart-healthy nutrition. Healthcare providers will also check to make sure any medicines you take are working. The plan may also include instructions for when you can drive, return to work, and do other normal daily activities.
Manage CAD to prevent a heart attack:
- Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause heart and lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise can lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and blood sugar levels. Healthcare providers will help you create exercise goals. They can also help you make a plan to reach your goals. For example, you can break exercise into 10 minute periods, 3 times in the day. Find an exercise that you enjoy. This will make it easier for you to reach your exercise goals.
- Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, talk to your healthcare provider about how to lose weight. A weight loss of 10% can improve your heart health.
- Eat heart healthy foods. Include fresh fruits and vegetables in your meal plan. Choose low-fat foods, such as skim or 1% fat milk, low-fat cheese and yogurt, fish, chicken (without skin), and lean meats. Eat two 4-ounce servings of fish high in omega-3 fats each week, such as salmon, fresh tuna, and herring. Avoid foods that are high in sodium, such as canned foods, potato chips, salty snacks, and cold cuts. Put less table salt on your food.
- Limit or do not drink alcohol. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.
- Manage other health conditions. Follow your healthcare provider's advice on how to manage other conditions that can affect your heart health. These include diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. You may need to take medicines for these conditions and make other lifestyle changes.
- Manage stress. Stress can raise your blood pressure. Find new ways to relax, such as deep breathing or listening to music.
- Ask about vaccines you may need. Vaccines help prevent certain diseases that can be dangerous for a person with CAD. Get a flu vaccine as soon as recommended each year, usually in September or October. You may also need vaccines to prevent pneumonia or COVID-19. Your healthcare provider can tell you if you should get other vaccines, and when to get them.
Follow up with your doctor as directed:
You may need to return for other tests. You may also be referred to a cardiac surgeon. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
Learn more about Coronary Artery Disease in Women (Ambulatory Care)
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