Women and Heart Disease Take 2

I have spent the last 24 hours waiting to keel over with my first heart attack. I am exhausted, but then again we got back from a family vacation moments before hosting 40 people for Thanksgiving. I have insomnia, but then again, Christmas is only 25 days away and I don’t like to shop. I have indigestion, but then again, I have been eating leftover pumpkin cheesecake and stuffing – in that order — for days. I have shortness of breath with any exertion at all, but then again, the last time I exercised was …

So, do I have heart disease or don’t I? I don’t think so, but truthfully, I have no idea. I made an appointment for a free cardiac screening. I’ll let you know how it goes. Who is at risk?

1. You are at risk. We all are. Heart disease is the number one killer of women over the age of 25. While 1 in 30 women die of breast cancer, 1 in 3 will die of heart disease.

2. You are at greater risk if you have a family history of heart disease (does anyone NOT have a family history of heart disease?), if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, are overweight, are inactive, have diabetes, or are a smoker.

3. The reason women experience symptoms differently from men is poorly understood. One theory is that they are more likely to have small vessel disease. While men tend to have obstructions in the major arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle, women have more disease in the smaller branches. My theory is they just don’t complain as much so the “crushing” chest pain felt by a man is the same as a mild ache for a woman. Kind of like a man-cold is a major illness while a woman’s cold is a mild hiccup. I think now that we finally realize women have heart attacks too, there will be more evidence to shed some light on this.

4. To review from yesterday, the symptoms women often experience when having a heart attack are: achy chest pain, palpitations, upper back or upper abdomen pain, intense fatigue, insomnia,  nausea, indigestion, shortness of breath at rest or with mild exertion.

5. So, am I sitting here calmly typing while my myocardium is infarcting? When should you seek medical help? I know most of you, as you are reading this, are having one or more of these symptoms. Like everything men experience, crushing chest pain would be much easier. If your symptoms are persistent, are unusual for you, are interfering with your activities, or give you that funny feeling that something is just not right, put down the wrapping paper, shut off the oven, close your laptop and get to your doctor. If the symptoms are really concerning you, go to the ER. That’s the best advice I can give. Use what little advantage we as a gender have been given – your female intuition.

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