By Cynthia S. Brown, WomenHeart Support Network Coordinator, WomenHeart 2010
Mayo Clinic Science & Leadership Symposium Certified
As the month of February ebbs every year, so does the issue of women and heart disease awareness. Don’t get me wrong, I think having an awareness month dedicated to women and heart disease is brilliant. I just always hate to see it end. It’s as if heart disease only exists during the month of February…that women don’t succumb to heart disease the other eleven months out of the year.
According to the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest report, heart disease is the number one killer of women over all cancers, diseases, and other leading causes of death (murder; suicide; accidents). Heart disease is also the number one killer of men, however, women are dying at a faster rate due to lack of awareness, education and knowledge on both the part of the patient, as well as the physician.
The first time I ever heard of someone dying from a heart attack, I visualized a man clenching his chest, doubling over in excruciating pain, and dying before his body ever hit the ground.
I couldn’t have been more wrong, but then again, what did I know about heart attacks? Nothing. Today, I know more. Sadly, the general population does not. Many individuals still expect the above scenario to play out, and always with a man, never a woman.
Reaching Out To Women
I live with heart disease every day, and have experienced a heart attack. I now have the distinct non-
pleasure of knowing what a heart attack feels like, and find myself deeply integrated into the world of advocating for other women living with, or at risk of, heart disease. Had it not been for WomenHeart, the nation’s only patient-centered organization supporting women living with heart disease, I would have never had the unique opportunity of reaching out to other women.
Being a heart patient, and advocate, I spend much of my time dissecting this issue, much like a student dissecting a frog in science class. I may not have all of the answers, but I’m going to do my best to help educate other women about the fallout that follows, when the number one killer of women goes ignored.
Women’s hearts are much different from that of a man’s in many ways. Women need to be diagnosed and treated as such. The disparity of gender inclusion in clinical trials and case studies is in desperate need of change. Until we understand those differences, women will continue to die.
Possible Warning Signs
Some women have the typical male signs of having a heart attack, excruciating pain in the middle of the chest, radiating out across the chest and back area, accompanied by numbness or tingling in the left arm or, in some cases, both arms, but it’s rare.
For most women, heart attack symptoms range from chest discomfort, a squeezing mild to severe pressure in the center of the chest, lasting more than a few minutes. Women may experience discomfort in both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, fainting, nausea, along with cold sweats. Some women experience unusual anxiety or fatigue.
Experiencing ANY of these Warning Signs? TAKE ACTION!!
• Call 911, explaining to dispatch that you are having a heart attack.
• Never drive yourself, or let others, drive you to the hospital. Medical professionals can treat you on the way.
• At the hospital, make it CLEAR you are having symptoms of a heart attack. Ask for a complete cardiac evaluation (electrocardiogram, cardiac enzyme blood test).
Wait…it’s someone else and they have stopped breathing? Begin CPR immediately! Good news…no more mouth-to-mouth. The hands-only approach works! Just place one hand on top of the other, compressing, ironically to the song Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees. If you don’t know the song, learn it. The four minutes in doing so will help save lives.
You’ve now been diagnosed with heart disease. Now what? This is the point where the other song “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar!” comes in. You learn to advocate for yourself, letting your voice be heard. After all, it IS your life!
Your cardiologist is complacent, suggesting a prescription for Paxil…Stand. Your. Ground. I have fired four cardiologists and now have one who listens to me with something more than just her stethoscope!
Having a support system is very important. I am inviting women to join our WomenHeart monthly support meetings. To learn more and to find a support group near you, visit www.womenheart.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me at 513-254-2744. The WomenHeart website has an abundance of information available.
We are in dire need of an active, operative relationship between our community (celebrities, politicians, corporations, media, hospitals). This number one killer takes the lives of the women in our lives, much too soon. Sometimes it’s good to be number one…with heart disease, not so much.
By committing to this relationship, many lives will be saved!
Led by trained patient volunteers, WomenHeart’s local support groups meet monthly to provide women living with heart disease critical peer-to-peer support, information and encouragement. Contact a WomenHeart Support Network Coordinator for details on the next scheduled meeting by visiting our website, www.womenheart.org.
WomenHeart’s mission is to improve the health and quality of life of women living with or at risk of heart disease, and to advocate for their benefit.
PATIENT-CENTERED. WomenHeart is committed to serving the needs of women with diagnosed heart disease.
EMPOWERMENT. WomenHeart believes that education, support and training enable women to take charge of their heart health and advocate for other women.
EQUALITY. WomenHeart is dedicated to ensuring that women have equal access as men to accurate cardiac diagnostic testing and proper treatment.
INCLUSIVENESS. WomenHeart believes that diversity strengthens and enriches every aspect of our organization.
COLLABORATION. WomenHeart actively seeks meaningful and productive partnerships with other organizations to educate women about heart disease.
QUALITY. WomenHeart is committed to rigorous evaluation and continuous improvement of all aspects of our organization.
Cynthia S. Brown
WomenHeart Support Network Coordinator