Women and Heart Disease
There are a number of treatment options for CAD, including lifestyle changes, medications, surgery and/or medical procedures.
Lifestyle changes are the mainstay of therapy. Commit to putting your health first:
Make healthy food choices to eat more plant-based and less processed foods.
Lose weight if needed.
Quit smoking or don’t start.
Get enough sleep.
Limit alcohol intake to one drink a day or less.
Know your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and find out if you have or are at risk for diabetes.
Women often are the ones juggling and taking care of everyone else first. By making these heart-healthy choices every day, you can help protect your heart and help those around you live healthier, too.
In addition to lifestyle changes, you many need:
Medicine. People who have or are at high risk for CAD are often advised to take one or more medications. Medicine can help the heart work better, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, manage symptoms including chest pain (angina) and/or prevent blood clots.
Coronary angioplasty and stenting (also called percutaneous coronary intervention). This procedure opens narrowed or blocked blood vessels that supply blood to the heart. A stent is a small, metal mesh tube that expands inside a coronary artery to keep it propped open. Angioplasty is a balloon procedure to open blocked arteries. Your doctor will decide which procedure is right for you based on your test results.
Heart surgery or coronary bypass grafting (CABG). Surgeons will open the chest to place grafts that restore blood flow to blocked or damaged arteries that supply the heart.
Cardiac rehabilitation. Cardiac rehab is a 12-week program that includes a mix of supervised exercise, nutrition counseling, stress management, assistance to quit smoking and education about the disease process, including how you can better take control of your health and improve outcomes. Studies show that people who attend cardiac rehab have fewer returns to the hospital and better quality of life.
Historically, treatments have been based on clinical studies that included mostly men. In fact, less than 25% of participants in heart-related studies have been women. The good news is that as research continues to evolve and include more women of all races and ethnicities, researchers are beginning to find diagnostic approaches and therapies that are better matched to women with CAD.
Make sure you are getting the best possible treatment.
If you have CAD or are at high risk for developing it, take the time to talk with your doctor about whether you are getting the guideline-indicated therapies. Women are less likely to get them. This includes aspirin and referrals to cardiologists as well as cardiac rehab.
Published: February 2017
Editorial Team Lead: Gina Lundberg, MD, FACC
Medical Reviewer: Martha Gulati, MD, MS, FACC