Cardiovascular (Heart Disease)

Heart disease is ranked as the number-one killer of women in the United States. The Center for Women’s Health at UT Medical Center offers a wide variety of testing and treatment for women with heart disease, including the 4 Your Heart program. Cardiac diagnostics such as electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), stress test and coronary angiography (or arteriography) are conducted by well-trained healthcare professionals that are dedicated to high-quality, patient-centered care. In addition, these doctors are experts in performing such treatments as coronary angioplasty (balloon angioplasty), coronary atherectomy, bypass surgery and cardiovascular and pulmonary rehabilitation.

Many tests that help doctors diagnose coronary heart disease are non-invasive and painless.

  • Electrocardiogram (also called an ECG or EKG). Records the heart’s electrical activity as it beats. This can show abnormal heartbeats, muscle damage, blood flow problems and heart enlargement. Electrodes attached to your skin transmit this activity to a machine that prints a report for your doctor to read.
  • Exercise stress test (treadmill test). Records the ECG during exercise, usually while you walk on a treadmill or ride an exercise bicycle. This test determines whether your heart is getting enough oxygen during physical activity. Electronic sensors attached to your body connect to an ECG machine. Women who cannot exercise because of arthritis or other medical conditions can have a stress test without exercise in which they are given a drug that increases blood flow.
  • Echocardiography. Uses ultrasound to produce sound waves that bounce off the heart, creating pictures that show heart size, shape and movement.
  • Thallium stress test. This nuclear scan assesses heart muscle contraction as blood flows through the heart. A small amount of radioactive material is injected into a vein, usually in the arm, and a scanning camera then records how much is taken up by the heart muscle.
  • Coronary angiography (or arteriography). Displays blood flow problems and blockages. A specially-trained cardiologist threads a thin, flexible tube (catheter) through an artery of an arm or leg up into the heart. A dye that shows up on an X-ray is injected, and the heart and blood vessels are filmed as the heart pumps. The picture is called an angiogram or arteriogram. An angiogram helps diagnose heart disease in people who are experiencing angina or who have abnormal results from stress tests or an echocardiogram.

Treatment / Special Procedures

  • If you have heavy plaque buildup in your arteries, you may need a special procedure to open an artery and improve your blood flow. Three procedures can ease severe chest pain or clear major blockages in blood vessels.
  • Coronary angioplasty, also called “balloon” angioplasty.
  • A thin tube is threaded through an artery in your groin to the narrowed heart vessel, where a tiny balloon at its tip is inflated. The balloon flattens the buildup and stretches the artery, improving blood flow. The balloon is then deflated and removed, along with the tube.
  • Coronary atherectomy. A thin tube containing a cutting device at its tip that shaves the plaque, which is then removed through a catheter.
  • Bypass surgery for heart disease. When blockages are too long or too hard for angioplasty, coronary artery bypass graft surgery—better known as bypass surgery—may be necessary. This surgery is open heart surgery. You are placed on a special heart-lung machine so that surgeons can stop your heart long enough to sew a piece of blood vessel taken from another part of your body onto the narrowed artery. This makes a “bypass” around the blockage. Sometimes, more than one bypass is needed. On average, a bypass requires a few days in the hospital and several weeks of recuperation at home.

You can read about the 4 Your Heart Program for women, and obtain more information at UT Medical Center’s Heart Lung Vascular Institute.