Women's Health Matters

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Ischemic Heart Disease

What Is Ischemic Heart Disease?
Ischemic heart disease (or coronary artery disease) is a disease of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. It is the main cause of heart attacks.

Ischemic heart disease occurs when the heart muscle is damaged or works inefficiently due to a decrease in blood supply. Ischemic heart disease is most often caused by atherosclerosis – a fatty build-up, which blocks or narrows the coronary arteries, and decreases the blood supply to your heart.

Who Suffers from Ischemic Heart Disease?
Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of Canadian women. Half of all people with coronary artery disease are women. Fifty percent of all fatal heart attacks happen to women. Fortunately, women and health-care providers are beginning to get the message that heart disease is a major threat to women’s health and well-being.

What Are the Signs of Ischemic Heart Disease?
While the first sign of heart disease in men is often chest pain, heart disease in women often appears in other ways. Women are more likely to experience vague pain or discomfort in the chest, neck, back or arms (this may be a tightness, heaviness or burning sensation). This pain may come and go for months, or even years, before it's diagnosed. Other initial signs or symptoms of heart disease in women include shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, dizziness and/or extreme fatigue.

Unfortunately, women are less likely than men to be tested for heart disease.

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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital