Types of Heart Disease

In the United States, 25% of women die from heart disease. Coronary heart disease (CHD)—the most common type—is the number one cause of mortality in women.

Other types of heart disease that pose risks mainly for women, such as coronary microvascular disease (MVD) and broken heart syndrome, are not as well understood as CHD. These diseases are continuing to be researched.

Coronary Heart Disease

CHD is a disease in which plaque builds up on the inner walls of the coronary arteries—the arteries responsible for carrying richly oxygenated blood to your heart. When plaque builds in the arteries, the condition is called atherosclerosis.

Plaque is made up of calcium, cholesterol, fat and some other substances found in blood. As time passes, plaque might harden or rupture. Hardened plaque narrows the coronary arteries and therefore reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart, causing chest pain or discomfort and is known angina. If plaque ruptures, a blood clot might form on its surface. If this clot is big enough, it is possible that it will completely block blood flow through a coronary artery. This is the most common cause of heart attacks.

In addition to leading to angina and heart attack, Coronary Heart Disease can lead to heart failure, irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) or sudden cardiac arrest. (SCA).

Coronary Microvascular Disease

Coronary MVD (or cardiac syndrome X or nonobstructive CHD ) affects the heart's tiny arteries. In coronary MVD, the walls of the heart's tiny arteries are damaged or diseased. Women are more likely than men to have this disease. Some research suggest that coronary MVD can be caused by a reduction in estrogen levels during menopause in combination with other heart disease.

Although death rates from heart disease have dropped in the last 30 years, they haven't dropped as much in women as in men. This may be the result of coronary MVD. Standard tests for CHD are not designed to detect coronary MVD so test results for women who have coronary MVD may inaccurately show that they are at low risk.

Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure is the end result of many forms of heart disease. It is very difficult to treat with pharmaceuticals or surgery but Transcendental Meditation may be an effective intervention that can change the course of this condition. Research on the TM technique conducted at the University of Pennsylvania showed that those who were already using conventional treatments for heart failure and then added TM practice twice daily experienced significant improvements such as greater functional capacity. This study, published in Ethnicity and Disease, showed improvement—after only three months of TM practice—in various parameters of congestive heart failure such as exercise tolerance.

Broken Heart Syndrome

Women are more likely than men to have broken heart syndrome (stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy). This disease can occur when extreme emotional stress leads to severe (though often only short-term) heart muscle failure. It may be misdiagnosed as a heart attack because of its similar symptoms and test results. There won’t be evidence of blocked heart arteries, however, and most women will recover fully and quickly.

Prescription for heart health

Fortunately, one can control many risk factors (conditions or personal habits that raise your risk level) for new or worsening coronary heart disease. Lifestyle changes, including practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique, can lower your risk.