If you were suddenly diagnosed with heart failure, you would first of all be utterly horrified by hearing those words “heart failure” – which brings me to the eternal question: when are cardiologists going to come up with a better name for this common condition in which a person’s heart has trouble pumping blood as well as it should? (See also: “When Doctors Use Words That Hurt“)
I hope that the second thing that happens after you hear those dreadful words is that somebody will immediately show you this beautiful photo (above) of twin sisters Shaun Rivers andKim Ketter, both nurses from Richmond, Virginia. They were each diagnosed with heart failure during the same week in 2009 when the twins were just 40 years of age.
In many ways, the fact that my cardiac treadmill stress test results appeared “normal” was not a surprise, despite my textbook heart attack symptoms of crushing chest pain, nausea, sweating and pain radiating down my left arm. What we now know is that single-vessel heart disease, which is more common in women than in men, may be less likely to be picked up at all on a treadmill test.
Even though my left anterior descending coronary artery was 95% blocked, this didn’t show up. Similarly, for other women non-obstructive heart disease (again, more common in women) is harder to identify given our existing diagnostics. Women are more likely to suffer from coronary microvascular disease affecting the smallest blood vessels of the heart. And spasm conditions like Prinzmetal’svariant angina are difficult to catch at the best of times, but women can be just as dead after a heart attack caused by undiagnosed Prinzmetal’s as they would be due to fully-occluded coronary arteries. Continue reading “How a woman’s heart is different from a man’s”→