Today, we are going to have some serious talk. My coworker, Juli, had a heart attack a couple of weeks ago, right here at work. (You can read her story HERE and, if you're willing/able, you can donate to help cover her medical expenses. Even if you can't or don't want to donate, I suggest you read her story as a cautionary tale.) I read her Go Fund Me page linked above and decided that I wanted to write a blog about how having a heart attack when you're a woman (and hell, even as a man) doesn't feel like what TV has told us it should feel like. In her post, Juli said "I do not have all the details of how and when but I do know that my story maybe able to save a life or two. Young women need to know that it really can happen to them and what signs to look for. It is this that excites me. To think my suffering will be another's blessing." So I will spread her story as far as my blog will allow so that others may learn from her.
THE NITTY GRITTY DETAILS
First, allow me to define what a heart attack is. A heart attack is "a sudden and sometimes fatal occurrence of coronary thrombosis, typically resulting in the death of part of a heart muscle." Thanks, Google. You're a pal.
In order to keep pumping and keep you alive, your heart requires its own supply of oxygen and nutrients (since keeping you alive tends to be a 24/7/365 kind of job). A heart attack happens when cholesterol plaque builds up in the arteries leading to the heart. Blood clots around the plaque and then blood can't get to the heart, which starves the heart tissue. This can cause a part of the heart to die, which is a heart attack.
Plaque build up and an increased risk for heart attack can be caused by disease, being genetically predisposed to plaque build up, smoking, high blood pressure, and poor health/eating decisions like eating lots of saturated fats.
Take this QUIZ to see what you know about a heart attack. I only got 3/5.
Most people assume that a heart attack means having sudden chest pain, pain in your left arm, and then collapsing. While all of that is associated with a heart attack, those are not the only symptoms. Juli described her heart attack as: "I ignored the signs for some time and the pain that they warn you about was nothing like what I felt. It was more of a pressure in my arm. Under my armpit. I felt as if I had heart burn. It wasn't until I had the most severe tightening of my chest and things started to get fuzzy." That was the point where a coworker of ours drove her to the emergency room. I was, unfortunately, on lunch when it happened.
Symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Discomfort, pressure, heaviness, or pain in the chest, arm, or below the breastbone
- Discomfort radiating to the back, jaw, throat, or arm
- Fullness, indigestion, or choking feeling (may feel like heartburn)
- Sweating, nausea, vomiting, or dizziness
- Extreme weakness, anxiety, or shortness of breath
- Rapid or irregular heartbeats
Women experience heart attacks differently than men do. Twenty percent (1/5) of women will not have the same symptoms as a man does. They don't have the classic "elephant on my chest/chest pain" symptoms, but instead experience a feeling of indigestion that can travel to their back, shortness of breath, nausea, and hyperventilation. This is frequently misdiagnosed as a GI track issue, when in reality, you are dying. If you are not assertive enough about being seen in the ER with these symptoms, it can cost you your life.
HOW TO HELP PREVENT A HEART ATTACK/HEART DISEASE
There are many things that you can do to help prevent heart issues:
- Do not use tobacco and if you do, work on quitting.
- Be more active! Just walking for 30 minutes on most days can really help.
- Eat healthier! Avoid processed, high fat foods. Eat less red meat and more lean meats like poultry or fish. Eat more fruits and veggies!
- Maintain a healthier weight
- GET. MORE. SLEEP.
- Go to the doctor for regular checkups.
- Manage high blood pressure/diabetes
- TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR
I know this wasn't my most thrilling post (it seemed inappropriate to use humor here), but I think that it's important for people (especially women, since our symptoms are weird) to know this stuff. Take care of your heart. Take care of your health. You never know who is relying on you to live a long, strong life.
<3 - CFC
Sources (and good articles to read):