Understanding A Woman's Heart Means Knowing What to Look For


I intuitively knew something wasn't right. I knew I wasn't imagining it.

- Reyna Robles, patient, Stanford Hospital & Clinics

Robles' heart function was impaired by a physical anomaly called a myocardial bridge, where an artery is enveloped by heart muscle. When the heart muscle contracts, blood flow through that artery is constricted, too. On the left, a contracted heart; on the right, a relaxed heart.

After many frustrating visits to doctors who told her they could find nothing wrong, Robles found Jennifer Tremmel, MD, who leads the Women's Heart Health at Stanford Program. 

What we have found is that stress tests, and even angiograms, may not always identify the problem.

- Jennifer Tremmel, MD, Clinical Director, Women's Heart Health at Stanford

Chest pain is the classic signal of heart failure, but that can also feel like pressure, tightness, squeezing or burning. Other symptoms might also be part of an attack in a woman.

  • shortness of breath
  • nausea or vomiting
  • arm or shoulder pain, usually left-sided but may be right-sided
  • pain in neck, jaw, back or abdomen
  • fatigue

Preventing a heart attack
A healthy diet, appropriate weight and daily exercise routine reduce your chances of heart disease. Other steps to take include:

  • know your family's heart health history
  • check your blood pressure regularly
  • check your cholesterol at age 20 and every five years afterwards
  • childhood obesity and diabetes raise the risk for heart disease at a young age
  • don't smoke
  • be physically active--aim for 30 minutes every day of moderate intensity exercise

Diagnostic Tests to Consider
Sometimes, more than one test is necessary to determine if you have heart disease. The options include:

  • blood test
  • an EKG to measure the heart's electrical activity
  • chest x-ray, echocardiography, MRI, CT
  • a stress test measure your heart at work

We pride ourselves in taking the time to really figure out what's going on, and not just saying there are no blockages.

- Jennifer Tremmel, MD, Clinical Director, Women's Heart Health at Stanford

As she recovers from surgery to reroute an artery covered by heart muscle, Robles has returned with gusto to cooking, much to the appreciation of her husband, Martin.