February is Heart Month. For 10 years, the American Heart Association has dedicated the first Friday of February as National Wear Red Day. It is a day to remember that every minute of each day, someone’s wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, grandmother die from heart disease or stroke.
For me it is a day to remember my mother and sister. In June of 1972, I received a phone call from my sister. My mother was in the hospital because she had suffered a heart attack. In 1972, procedures that we take for granted today were not available. A cath lab did not exist and stents were a dream. The cardiologist simply told us that the next 48 hours were critical. If her heart developed collateral arteries, her chance of survival was good.
Researchers have learned that gender differences play an important role in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. Although chest pain is the most common heart attack warning sign in both men and women, women may be less likely to report chest pain and more likely to report other symptoms. These other symptoms often result in misdiagnosis and delays in treatment. In my mother’s case, she did not have chest pain. When she awoke that morning, she felt weak and nauseated. She vomited, and she was dizzy. She returned to bed thinking that she had a virus or flu. When my sister arrived to check on mom, she noticed that her finger tips were blue. She immediately called 9-1-1. Upon arriving at the hospital, she did experience a heart attack. Every time I read about unusual symptoms, I remember my mother.
About one year ago, my sister awoke with the similar symptoms that our mother experienced years ago (nausea, weakness, vomiting). Her daughter drove her to the emergency room despite my sister stating it was just a virus or the flu. After tests indicated the need for additional procedures, my sister received one stent in a coronary artery. Today she is doing well. This has a happy ending because of the research funded in part by the American Heart Association.
Remember the Symptoms of a heart attack:
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
As with men, the most common heart attack symptom in women is chest pain or discomfort. But it’s important to note that women are more likely to experience the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
Heart disease and stroke are the number one cause of death in American women, claiming 420,000 lives each year. It is nearly one death each minute. Concerned with the gender differences, the AHA has advocated for reducing rates of death and disability in women, and identifying gender differences in response to cardiac medications and devices. Success was achieved a few months ago, with the passage of the Heart for Women Act. The act requires the FDA to report on how new prescription drugs and medical devices work in women and minorities.
For information on women and heart disease and to read personal accounts from women who have heart disease, visit the AHA website. This week the AHA website is dedicated to women and heart disease. Check your heart score this month.
Continue to check the CHI Health website for heart healthy recipes throughout February. Make this your month to put into action a heart healthy eating plan. Remember to include activity and exercise into your daily routine. Be tobacco free. Do your best with these lifestyle changes and be thankful for today’s medical treatments and advocacy funded by the American Heart Association.