Victoria Clerkin was only 56. She didn’t have a known family history of heart disease. She stayed active by riding her bicycle regularly and going for walks. She was not overweight. She maintained a healthy diet. So why was she experiencing chest pain?

What Is It?

Victoria suffered from angina pectoris, or chest pain. Angina occurs when blood flow to the heart muscle is decreased. This usually happens because one or more of the heart's arteries is narrowed or blocked. Her condition was a sign of her underlying heart problem. It first happened to Victoria last June on a vacation to Washington, D.C.

“It began as a cramp in my left shoulder. Every time we would go walking, it was like a burning coal in the center of my chest. When I stopped walking, the pain stopped,” says Victoria.

Personalized Protection

Heart disease is the leading killer of women in the United States. More than 75 percent of women ages 40 to 60 have at least one risk factor for heart disease.

Victoria admits, “At first I didn’t want to tell anyone what I was experiencing – it may have been nothing. Luckily, I confided in a friend in the medical field, who highly recommended Orange Coast Medical Center’s heart specialists. We agreed I should be proactive, not reactive, just in case.”

Victoria’s own search for answers brought her to the Women’s Cardiac Health Program at Orange Coast Medical Center. To assess each woman’s risk, the comprehensive cardiac screening uses various markers such as blood pressure, body fat analysis, an electrocardiogram (EKG), cholesterol and blood sugar testing. The program’s goal is to promote lifestyle changes and early medical intervention to help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Heartbreak Averted

Just 24 hours after her screening, Victoria had the results. Her cholesterol levels were twice as high as they should be and her blood pressure was elevated. “The nurse at Orange Coast Medical Center stressed that I needed to consult with a cardiologist right away. When I told her I had already scheduled an appointment in two weeks, right then and there, she moved it up to the very next day,” says Victoria.

Arvind Nirula, M.D., interventional cardiologist at Orange Coast Medical Center, performed a coronary angiogram to closely look at Victoria’s heart vessels. He discovered a 95 percent blockage in a major artery to her heart.

“High cholesterol and high blood pressure are two of the biggest risk factors for having a heart attack. Victoria had both,” says Dr. Nirula. “High cholesterol causes a gradual build-up of plaque in the arteries. Over time, as was the case with Victoria, this results in restricted blood flow to the heart. This was why she was feeling pain with a simple activity such as walking. We placed a stent in the blocked artery to restore blood flow to the heart.”

Dr. Nirula performed the procedure using a radial approach, through the wrist, with only light sedation. Victoria returned home the next day and was back to work in three days.

“I couldn’t believe how simple it was. It barely affected my daily routine. I felt great – and normal again,” says Victoria.

Heart Attacks: Men VS. Women

About every 34 seconds, a heart attack strikes, according to the American Heart Association. Chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack. However, for women, the symptoms may often be subtler, such as shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the arm or back, jaw pain or lightheadedness.

“There’s a grave misconception that heart disease only affects men. Victoria’s chest pain was a warning sign that a potential heart attack was likely. But not all women have this classic symptom,” says Dr. Nirula. “Women are less likely than men to seek medical attention, blaming indigestion, the flu or even anxiety for their symptoms. The Women’s Cardiac Health Program at Orange Coast Medical Center is designed to raise awareness and educate women about the power of prevention.”

Victoria adds, “I now know I was a heart attack waiting to happen. The $85 I spent on the screening was the investment of a lifetime.”

To learn more about your heart health, schedule your screening today.