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Experts propose a name change for women's heart disease

October 12, 2009 |  2:00 pm

Getprev(2)cardiacHeart disease in men is not the same as heart disease in women, say an influential group of cardiologists. Instead of referring to all heart disease by the medical terms of coronary artery disease or coronary heart disease, they argue that the term ischemic heart disease should be used to describe the illness experienced by women.

The paper, published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, points out that the current focus of treatment for heart disease centers on obstructive coronary artery disease, which is when the arteries of the heart become clogged with plaque. However, women have less obstructive disease but higher rates of ischemia, which is defined as the inadequate flow of blood through the body because of constriction or blockage in blood vessels. Women with heart disease have more microvascular dysfunction -- affecting the small blood vessels of the body - compared with men.

Women tend to experience worse outcomes compared with men because the focus is on obstructive heart disease, the authors say, noting women have higher rates of sudden cardiac death before arriving at a hospital compared with men.

A name change may help doctors tailor diagnostic tests and treatments to better suit their patients, both men and women.

"Ischemic heart disease in women presents a unique and difficult challenge for clinicians due to a greater symptom burden, functional disability, greater healthcare needs, and more adverse outcomes as compared to men despite a lower prevalence and severity of anatomical coronary artery disease," they wrote. The authors represent the Women's Ischemia Syndrome Evaluation, a study group that includes Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz, director of the Women's Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times