Mike Little, Health Calls CEO, likes to talk about his mom Harriet. Harriet is “74 years old, a little high strung “ish” (if that is a correct adjective), and up until 2 years ago, she was a walker of well over 1000 miles per year, and well over 100 miles per month.”
That all changed in August of 2012. At that time, she was admitted to the hospital with chest pains and was immediately scheduled for a heart catheterization. The heart catheterization, showed some blockage, but nothing major so a stent was not put in to correct the minor blockage in the artery. Harriet had a late Friday evening discharge from the hospital and some printed instructions in hand. She was sent home to return to life as normal. Although it wasn’t “normal” anymore. Her energy dwindled and her chest pain would continue off and on. Walking was impossible, and her medications made her nauseous.
Two months after her initial hospital stay, and with two months of cardiac rehab under her belt (where she was allowed to exercise in 5 minute increments), she was scheduled to have a stent implanted. “Other family members had a history of heart problems and the stent had worked great for my father-in-law, so I was thinking, finally we have arrived at a solution,” Mike shares. “Well…the stent wasn’t the answer. It seems that she had blockages in the micro vessels around her heart, and was diagnosed with angina”.
With continued pain, and a lifestyle that left her fulfilling the definition of homebound status, off to Duke Medical School Harriet went. It was there that she found a cardiologist that specializes in women’s heart care. This led to another 6 to 12 months of adjusting medications, two more catheterizations, and a trip to discover that acid reflux was a major issue, and having to relearn the cues from her body that told her when she was overdoing it.
Mike reports that “this process of stabilization, and learning would not have been possible without the expertise in women’s heart care. Today, over two years after her initial issues, she has developed a new “normal”, not walking as much, but yet walking. She has changed her diet, and lost many pounds, naps when tired, avoids getting overheated, and found out that men and women heart issues are not the same.”
Mike joked earlier today to our team that “anyone knows a woman’s heart breaks easier than a man’s does.” But that is not the issue; the issue Harriet dealt with is that the symptoms and treatment methods vary greatly from a woman to a man. The majority of treatment protocols are established for men. Mike’s “BIG ADVICE”: “If you are a woman and need to see a cardiologist or are having heart issues, please look around for the doctors with experience in women’s heart care. Had my mother done that earlier, she would have saved herself 12 months of pain and aggravation, over $100k in medical costs, and quality of life issues that no one should have to endure. And be sure to tell your mother you love her- her heart may grow three sizes that day!”
Today people are wearing red. Not for an early Valentines Day celebration, but in recognition of our nations’s #1 killer of women. Wear Red For Women Day is to bring awareness to unique face of heart disease in women.
More women die of heart disease than men each year.
Heart disease is the number 1 killer of women in the US, more than all forms of cancer combined.
Many women having a heart attack may not feel chest pressure or pain. Some women do, but for many chest pain is replaced with left arm, shoulder, jaw or neck pain, nausea and vomiting, sweating and other vague symptoms. Women experience just a few of these symptoms and they can appear to be something else until it’s too late.
Women have increased risk for heart disease after menopause.
Women of all ages have risks as outlined below but women with a family history of heart disease should pay special attention.
Women have more likelihood to develop changes in the tiny vessels of the heart in comparison to men which accounts for some of the differences in what women feel when they experience a heart attack.
Women’s risk for heart disease :
Inactivity. Make steps to increase exercise to 40 minutes three times a week. Here, Go Red For Women sponsors, the American Heart Association show how every little bit of activity helps. As they say, you don’t need to be a gym rat!
Smoking. Women have a higher risk of heart disease due to smoking than men (but smoking is a high risk for both men and women). Seek help to stop smoking as this is a serious risk not to be ignored. WebMD offers help for the first hard days after quitting tobacco.
Waist size. If you’re a woman and your waist is greater than 36 inches (38 inches for men), work to lose those extra inches to decrease your risks. WebMD disccuses what waist size has to do with heart risk. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute has developed guidelines and recipes for healthy eating.
High Blood Pressure. Women who have a larger waist line AND have high blood pressure have an increased risk for heart attack. The American Heart Association’s interactive video offers additional information on high blood pressure.
Cholesterol. The number can’t be guessed. Get it checked. If your number is high, diet and exercise can really help. Your doctor may have additional recommendations based on your risk profile. The American Heart Association offers additional educational information to help educate about cholesterol and the risks.
If you have any risks for heart disease, take the warning seriously and keep a small dollop of love for yourself! Find where your stressors are and make minor tweaks to care for yourself. Commit to making small changes that you can fit into your life.