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What Causes Heart Disease?

Research suggests that coronary heart disease (CHD) begins with damage to the lining and inner layers of the coronary (heart) arteries. Several factors contribute to this damage. They include:

Plaque may begin to build up where the arteries are damaged. The buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries may start in childhood.

Over time, plaque can harden or rupture (break open). Hardened plaque narrows the coronary arteries and reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. This can cause chest pain or discomfort called angina.

If the plaque ruptures, blood cell fragments called platelets (PLATE-lets) stick to the site of the injury. They may clump together to form blood clots.

Blood clots can further narrow the coronary arteries and worsen angina. If a clot becomes large enough, it can mostly or completely block a coronary artery and cause a heart attack.

In addition to the factors above, low estrogen levels before or after menopause may play a role in causing coronary microvascular disease (MVD). Coronary MVD is heart disease that affects the heart's tiny arteries.

The cause of broken heart syndrome isn't yet known. However, a sudden release of stress hormones may play a role in causing the disorder. Most cases of broken heart syndrome occur in women who have gone through menopause.

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Heart Disease in Women Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Heart Disease in Women, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.


Heart Disease in Women in the News

May 5, 2014
Health and financial analysis reinforces NIH's decision to fund Women's Health Initiative
An in-depth analysis of final data from one of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) Postmenopausal Hormone Therapy Trials has found that the investment in WHI resulted in a return of $140 in net economic value for each dollar invested in the trial.

View all Heart Disease in Women Press Releases


The Heart Truth Logo

The Heart Truth®—a national heart disease awareness campaign for women—is sponsored by the NHLBI. The campaign's goal is to give women a personal and urgent wakeup call about their risk for heart disease. 

Every woman has a story to tell and the power to take action to protect her heart health. Share your story with other women on Facebook.

The Heart Truth campaign offers a variety of public health resources to help educate women and health professionals about women’s heart disease. 

Learn more about key campaign events, activities, and resources at www.hearttruth.gov.

 
April 21, 2014 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.