Women and Heart Disease: Are You Living with Heart Disease and Don’t Know It

It was a cold and dark Monday morning in February. I stepped off the front porch to drive to work, and as I did, I stumbled backward as if I’d just been kicked in the chest. Horrible pain! I thought, “Am I having a heart attack”?! No, I wasn’t, but what was it?

  • Angina (Stable or Unstable)
  • Psychological Disorders That Can Cause Chest Pain
  • Esophageal Spasms, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
  • Broken Heart Syndrome (Takotsubo Syndrome)
  • Pulmonary Embolism (blood clot in the lung)
  • Aortic Dissection (tear in the wall of the aorta)
  • Musculoskeletal Pain (1)

Read about each one of the above conditions here.

Once the initial pain subsided, I walked to my vehicle, denying that I could be having a heart attack.

The pain was still present when I arrived at work. Now I’m thinking, “if I pass out or have a heart attack, someone can call 911”, so I went up to the secretary’s office. She was out. As I made my way to the classroom, the pain subsided. I made it through the Pilates class, so I was good, right? Next on the agenda – teach a cardio class. I’m in the warm-up phase and start to get right shoulder and chest pain. If I slowed down, the pain went away. I did that three times, and I made it through the class. Later that day, my doctor ordered an EKG and told me everything was fine. She suggested I see an OBGYN.

Delay in Treatment –

Why do so many women delay seeking treatment? Why did I?

Heart and Stroke Foundation lists the following reasons for the delay in seeking treatment: (2)

  • A period of uncertainty (patient attributes their symptoms to another health condition)
  • Denial or dismissal of symptoms
  • Seeking assistance/second opinion of someone such as a friend or family member
  • Recognition of severity of symptoms with feelings of defeat
  • Seeking medical attention, then
  • Acceptance

The truth? The longer you delay in seeking treatment, the closer you are to death from a heart attack. Author and blogger for My Heart Sister’s, Carolyn Thomas wrote. “Treatment delay is the period of time between the onset of symptoms and actively getting appropriate help, and it can be divided into these three phases:

  1. decision time– the period from the onset of acute symptoms to the decision to seek care (for example, calling 911)
  2. transport time– the period from the decision to seek care to arrive at the Emergency Department
  3. therapy time– the period from arrival at the Emergency Department to the start of medical treatment

Only the first phase is the one YOU have complete control over. Don’t blow it.(3)

 Why did I delay in seeking treatment? Denial was first on my list. Second, a classroom of students counting on me. Third, I’d been teaching fitness for 20 plus years and didn’t have any risk factors. My BP was great; my cholesterol was 136. What was wrong?

Heart Attack Signs & Symptoms in Women

The American Heart Association says:

  1. Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
  2. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  3. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  4. Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.
  5. As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

If you have any of these signs, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away. (4)

More on My Story! –

I was having all the signs and symptoms of heart disease, but I was pronounced okay! Tired of feeling awful, I gave in to my doctor, went to an OBGYN, and started HRT’s.

Within a few days of the initial pain episode, I still had exercise-induced chest pain. I was tired, had a constant uneasy feeling, shortness of breath, and mood swings.

I sought more medical help. The doctor that saw me was an older and wiser gentleman. His words that day are still with me. “My dear, I think you have Angina.” He ordered a chest x-ray and EKG. I waited in the exam room for the results. They weren’t good; I was ordered to go directly to the hospital.

In the ER, they ran blood work. No heart attack…what was wrong with me? They didn’t know. I was admitted to the hospital!

The next morning, I failed a stress test, miserably. I was taken to the Cardiac Cath Lab, where a stent was placed in my left anterior descending coronary artery (LAD). I had gone from a blip on the EKG (which wasn’t detected) to a full 90% blockage in six weeks.

One week after my surgery, I was back to running and teaching. I could breathe. It felt good to be alive and free of pain. Why did this happen? What did I do wrong? How could my doctor, despite telling her for six months that something is wrong, ignore me?

Heart Disease Prevention –

  • Quit Smoking
  • Exercise Regularly – 30 to 60 minutes all or most days of the week is recommended.
  • Lose weight
  • Reduce & Manage Stress
  • Lower Blood Pressure
  • Increase HDL Cholesterol (the good cholesterol)
  • Eat Healthy – more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, nuts, and low-fat dairy. (Vegan is also a great option)
  • Avoid red meat
  • Avoid sugar and processed foods.
  • Avoid foods high in sodium (no more than 2,400 mg of sodium a day is recommended)

Heart disease, the NUMBER ONE killer of women! Individually, we can change our own daily habits in the prevention of heart disease. Collectively, we can reach a broader audience. Join me in the fight against Heart Disease and reach out to your local AHA.

Watch this video on “Just a Little Heart Attack!”

  1. “SecondsCount.org,” last modified January 27, 2015, http://www.secondscount.org/heart-condition-centers/info-detail-2/nonheart-attack-sources-of-chest-pain#.VrBAwLIrJD9.
  2. “Women play a dangerous waiting game with heart symptoms,” Heart & Stroke Foundation, last modified October 28, 2014, http://www.heartandstroke.com/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=ikIQLcMWJtE&b=9319861&ct=14291405&printmode=1.
  3. “6 reasons women delay seeking medical help – even in the mid-heart attack,” Carolyn Thomas, HeartSisters, last modified December 20, 2015, http://myheartsisters.org/2015/12/20/6-ways-women-delay-seeking-help-yes-even-in-mid-heart-attack/#more-32310
  4. “Heart Attack Signs in Women,” American Heart Association, last modified October 19, 2015