In as many as 3 million U.S. women with coronary heart disease, cholesterol plaque may not build up into major blockages, but instead spreads evenly throughout the artery wall. As a result, diagnostic coronary angiography reveals that these women have “clear” arteries — no blockages — incorrectly indicating low risk. Despite this, many of these women have a high risk for heart attack, according to newly published research from the National Institutes of Health.
In women with this condition, called coronary microvascular syndrome, plaque accumulates in very small arteries of the heart, causing narrowing, reduced oxygen flow to the heart, and pain that can be similar to that of people with blocked arteries, but the plaque does not show up when physicians use standard tests. As a result, many women go undiagnosed, according to findings from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's (NHLBI) Women’s Ischemia Syndrome Evaluation (WISE) study. Insights from the study are published in a special supplement to the February 6 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, available online January 31.
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