Health Team

Study targets heart procedure in women

Posted July 1, 2008 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated July 1, 2008 6:39 p.m. EDT

Cardiac catheterization can be used to clear potential heart blockages and prevent heart attacks or death, but a new study shows the procedure is not always the best option for some women.

During cardiac catheterization, a doctor inserts a thin plastic tube into an artery or vein in the arm or leg. The tube can then be moved the chambers of the heart or into the coronary arteries, according to the American Heart Association. The test measures blood pressure within the heart and the level of oxygen in the blood. The procedure can also get information about the pumping ability of the heart muscle.

The study done by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It showed that catheterization helped women who have had a heart attack just as much as it helped men. However, researchers found women who had only experienced a near heart attack, referred to as unstable angina, were at greater risk of experiencing a heart attack or death after the procedure.

“A more conservative strategy would be primarily managing these patients with medicines and then reserving cardiac catheterization only for those patients who either have ongoing symptoms or have a positive stress test before leaving the hospital,” Dr. Michelle O'Donoghue, of Brigham and Women's Hospital, said.

The study’s findings are consistent with updated guidelines from major heart organizations, which recommend catheterization for high risk women. The guidelines say those at low risk may need further testing to see if the procedure would really help.

Researchers said diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol may put women at greater risk of complications after cardiac catheterization.

Virginia Devlin, who has a strong family history of heart attacks, recently underwent cardiac catheterization. During the procedure doctors found Devlin had a partial blockage in one artery. A stent was used to correct the problem.

Heart disease is the nuber one killer of women in the United States.