I decided to share some of what I learned since my cardiac event 16 month ago. Most of the information I'm about to share with you came from WomenHeart - The National Coalition for Women With Heart Disease.
The leading cause of death for women in the United States is heart disease. The sad fact is, even though it is known that more women die from heart disease than from any other cause, heart disease is still perceived as belonging more to men than women. The medical community perpetuates that myth by designing testing and treatment around men and their needs or symptoms. They also may misdiagnose a women's cardiac symptoms as being caused by something else, like stress, heartburn or anxiety. Women are more likely to dismiss their own symptoms too and delay or not seek medical treatment at all.
Women often present differently than men when having a cardiac event. Their symptoms are sometimes subtle and not like the classic symptoms men experience. In my case, I had a burning sensation starting in the middle of my chest and radiating through both shoulders and into my lower jaw. It wasn't terribly painful and I hesitated asking for help initially. I was afraid it would be nothing and I would look foolish. Fortunately, it kept resonating in my brain that women's symptoms are different from men's which is what convinced me to seek help. Good thing I did.
Women often have worse outcomes than men in cardiac events and it's more prevalent in women of color. They may not be taken seriously in the hospital and may be send home without treatment. Sometimes, the tests are inconclusive in that an EKG may look normal, blood levels may not register heart damage until hours after the event and symptoms are not as intense as those of a man.
Symptoms to look out for:
- discomfort, tightness, uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing in the center of the chest, lasting more than a few minutes or comes and goes
- crushing chest pain
- pressure or pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, upper back, jaw or arms
- dizziness or nausea
- clammy sweats, heart flutters or paleness
- unexplained feelings of anxiety, fatigue or weakness - especially with exertion
- stomach or abdominal pain
- shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
If you find yourself feeling like you may be having a cardiac event, don't waste time looking up your symptoms on the internet or deciding whether to seek help. Call 911 immediately. It's better to find out it's a false alarm than to be in a situation made worse by waiting. It's important to advocate for yourself. Do not allow yourself to be dismissed.
Most heart disease is preventable. It's important to maintain a healthy body weight, healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels, exercise regularly and limit animal proteins in the diet. Managing stress and getting enough sleep is also very important in maintaining cardiac health and general good health.
As a health and nutrition coach, I work with women to lose weight and make sustainable changes to their lifestyle to prevent heart disease and other illnesses.