Nicole Lawson spent years suffering from daily chest pain, going from doctor to doctor—only to be told her problem was stress, acid reflux, or worse, all in her head.
Nicole’s training as a nurse told her something was physically wrong. Yet each time she had an electrocardiogram or cardiac catheterization, the results came back “normal.” Frustrated and frightened, she says, “I started to question myself.”
The Barbra Streisand Cedars-Sinai’s Women’s Heart Center invited her to participate in an innovative clinical trial conducted by its director, C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD. The focus: women with “normal” catheterizations and no blockages in their large coronary arteries who still had symptoms of heart disease.
Nicole underwent specialized diagnostic tests available at a select few cardiac centers nationwide. Dr. Bairey Merz told Nicole she had coronary microvascular disease. More common in women, this condition affects the tiny coronary arteries, the walls of which become diseased or damaged.
Knowing that what was wrong with her heart had a name came as a relief to Nicole. “That diagnosis changed the quality of my life,” she says. With medical management, her incidence of chest pain dropped from several times a day to once every few months.
Just being heard was a comfort. “I want every woman to know there’s someone out there who will listen to you and investigate what’s wrong,” says Nicole, 50. “The staff at the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center won’t dismiss you; they will validate you. It’s wonderful.”
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