Simple heart test for women

October 5, 2011 2:57:01 PM PDT
A new study is one of the first to look at how women should be tested to prevent heart attacks. Most studies for diagnosing heart disease is of men, but in one of the first studies of its kind, local researchers tried to answer the question on a large group of women.

A woman may have symptoms of a heart attack that are not typical and when she has no heart risk factors such as smoking or high cholesterol, doctors may scratch their heads about the diagnosis. Now, a new study finds that an inexpensive test may help to see if the heart is causing the symptoms.

The new study shows that this test may be the best to see if a heart problem is causing chest pain symptoms such as 57-year-old Carmen Estevez's.

Carmen got nervous after an abnormal heavy pain and tingling in her arm and face.

"She was typical of women post menopause who present with a multitude of complaints, some related to heart disease and sometimes they're not," said Dr. Regina Druz of North Shore-LIJ.

To find out if the symptoms are heart-related, Dr. Jennifer Mieres, North Shore-LIJ, studied 800 women who answered questions to find out if they were fit enough to do treadmill exercise.

Over two years, she compared the treadmill with an EKG to monitor the heart, with one using a radioactive dye to monitor the heart.

The inexpensive EKG test was as effective as expensive radioactive imaging in predicting heart attacks and deaths.

"If you can exercise for six minutes, the plain exercise stress test is the way to go," said Dr. Mieres.

The women had very few risk factors for heart attacks.

Some women must have the nuclear scan, for example women who cannot exercise well on the treadmill are women who are older or out of shape.

Carmen, though, had a normal test and is keeping her heart healthy with better diet and exercise. For low risk women, a simple exercise test can be a life saver.

Heart disease is an equal opportunity killer and it is recommended by the North Shore-LIJ doctors that women go in and speak with their doctors and discuss their risk of heart disease.

The EKG treadmill stress test does not involve injections or radioactive chemicals, which is certainly a plus. One criticism of the study was that in women with more heart risk factors, the radioactive imaging test may have found disease better.