There is a mysterious type of heart attack that you should know about because it can be deadly, and it’s the kind women are more likely to experience.
When we think of a heart attack, we tend to think of a blocked artery. Cholesterol plaque builds up on artery walls; eventually there’s a blockage, and the heart stops. However, a significant number of heart attacks occur in people with no blockage and very little plaque.
This type of attack is known as MINOCA, an acronym for “myocardial infarction [medical lingo for heart attack] with non-obstructive coronary arteries.” Doctors tend to think of MINOCA as less severe and not that dangerous. According to a new study, that is just not true.
Researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada followed more than 36,000 patients for 12 years to determine the frequency and dangers of MINOCA. The results, published in the International Journal of Cardiology, showed that 6 percent of heart attack patients had a MINOCA—with little to no artery plaque.
About 1 percent died in the hospital after their MINOCA (compared with 2.7 percent of those who had blocked-artery heart attacks). Over the next five years, 11 percent of MINOCA patients died, compared with 16 percent of patients with traditional heart attacks. The research also revealed that the gender split for men and women suffering a MINOCA was 50-50; with regular heart attacks, the split is 75 percent male, 25 percent female.
According to study author Kevin R. Bainey, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, and his colleagues, women—and their doctors—need to take note that women are more likely to have MINOCA. Previous research has found that MINOCA can be up to five times more common in women than in men.
“Historically, MINOCA has been seen as a benign condition, and patients are commonly sent home without any treatment or lifestyle advice,” Dr. Bainey said. “Yet we found that after one year’s time, 5 percent of patients either had another heart attack or died of a heart attack. Patients need to know that this condition is real, it is associated with adverse outcomes, and they need to probe their physicians for more information about the condition and ways to prevent a second heart attack, including making important lifestyle changes like eating healthier and exercising.”