Saturday, February 03, 2007

Go Red for Women

I wanted to post this yesterday, but I was busy working and volunteering at my son's school. The message is still the same today: heart disease is not just for older men. I am living proof.

When I was 41, I started having chest pain. It felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. I woke up at night with the pain. I thought it was heartburn. I'd get out of bed and sit in the recliner, thinking the sitting up would help it.

I called my doctor's office repeatedly. Chest pain is your magic, move to the front of the line ticket at the doctor's office. My wonderful doctor is in a practice with several other doctors. As it would happen, I saw all the other doctors in the practice over the next three months. They guessed my pain was heartburn, pericarditis (sp? an infection in the lining around your heart), gall bladder problems, etc. The pain didn't go away. They did so many EKGs that I could have put the electrode-thingies on myself! I also had a heart stress-test, which I passed. This went on for over 3 months. I kept asking if it was my heart, but they dismissed it.

My symptoms worsened. I couldn't ride bikes with my 6 yo son. I went for a walk with my husband on the Fourth of July and I had to sit in a stranger's front yard until the pain lessened before I could walk back to the party we were attending.

The next day, I called my doctor's office again. This time, my doctor was the doc seeing patients that called in that day with immediate issues. He took one look at me and why I was there and said, "No more screwing around here. You are having an angiogram this week."

A few days later, I had an angiogram. My right coronary artery was over 90% blocked. I was a heart attack waiting to happen. I had a stent put in the next day.

What my doctor saw in my chart and the others didn't take note of were these things:
* My cholesterol was high. My doc had tried to get me to take medication for it, but my husband and I were trying (unsuccessfully) to have a second child.
* My family has a horrible heart history: my maternal grandmother had her first of 6 heart attacks in her 40's. A cousin on that side of the family had a heart attack in his early 40's. My father had his first major stroke in his early 50's.

The moral of this long story is that women DO get heart disease. Even women in their early 40's or younger! If you have symptoms, keep bugging your doctor. If your doctor doesn't listen, find a new one.

Women are ten times more likely to die of heart disease than of breast cancer. I'm not saying breast cancer isn't important, but heart disease is far more overlooked. I volunteer for the American Heart Association. At heart fairs, I meet little old ladies who are surprised that *they* can get heart disease. Their husbands have heart disease, but they didn't know they could get it, too. If you have a heart, you can develop heart disease.

In the four years my stent placement, I've had no more angina. I have had heartburn. The other part of my lecture here is that it is impossible to tell the difference between angina and heartburn. I've had a couple more angiograms because of this! I'm happy to say that my arteries look marvelous.

Take care of yourselves and go make art!