Strides in Heart Care for Women

Knowing the hidden symptoms of heart disease in women

Bonnie Miller 600 × 375

Knowing the hidden symptoms of heart disease in women

Bonnie Miller always looked forward to her walks with her dog, Buddy—until this fall, when walking triggered a burning sensation in her lungs. That sensation, plus ongoing debilitating fatigue and nausea, sent her to Scripps.

Within days of first being seen by family medicine physician Christen Benke, DO, Bonnie was in the operating room getting the heart care she needed to resume her active lifestyle.

A fast diagnosis

While Miller’s electrocardiogram (EKG) revealed no evidence of coronary disease, Dr. Benke recognized that symptoms like Miller’s often indicated heart disease in women. After a quick risk calculation at her desk, Dr. Benke immediately sent the 72-year-old to Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla for tests, including a treadmill stress test with cardiac electrophysiologist Steven Higgins, MD.

“I didn’t think for a minute that I was having the symptoms of a heart condition,” says Miller, although she has a family history of the disease. “I had no idea. I never felt pain through my shoulder, arm or back, which is what I thought indicated heart disease. I just never thought that is what they would uncover. Thank goodness Dr. Benke sent me for more tests.”

Miller was able to stay on the treadmill for only four minutes—a result that prompted Dr. Higgins to call in interventional cardiologist David Meyer, MD, who scheduled a coronary angiogram after medication failed to halt Miller’s symptoms. This gold standard for the evaluation of coronary artery disease uncovered the silent condition that was causing Miller, a busy real estate agent, to lose her trademark energy and pep.

“Bonnie had a 95-percent narrowing in the left anterior descending coronary artery, what we often call the ‘widow maker,’” says Dr. Meyer, who inserted two stents during Miller’s procedure, to eliminate the blockages and keep the artery open. The blocked artery was restricting blood flow to the heart and causing her lethargy and other symptoms.

Lifesaving heart care

“Without the prompt action of her Scripps health care providers, Bonnie’s condition may well have become life-threatening—leading to an acute infarction (heart attack) in the near future,” says Dr. Meyer. “It takes a stellar team working together to properly diagnose and treat cardiac disease.”

Miller recovered quickly after surgery and was able to go home to her husband, Ernie, and their dog, 5-year-old Buddy, the next day. She felt so well that she showed a client his potential dream home that afternoon and was back to jazzercise and taking Buddy for long walks within a week. To keep her heart beating strong, Miller currently takes one aspirin a day, a statin to keep cholesterol low and a drug to keep her stents clean of platelets.

“I felt better immediately—back to myself,” says Miller. “I am so grateful that my condition was discovered in time, and I want to tell women that heart attack symptoms can be very different for us than they are in men.”