February is Red Dress Month for Women, or Go Red for Women Month. It is sponsored by the American Heart Association, and helps inform women about the signs/symptoms of heart disease. Most of us know someone in our family who is affected by heart disease, or it may be you. In my family it is me, I have heart disease.
Did you know that women experience signs completely different then men when it comes it heart disease? Did you know that women will have symptoms of a heart attack that are drastically different then men? Do you know what those symptoms are? Well make sure you read our whole post, so you can find out.
My story of heart disease
Whew, who ever thinks that they are going to be diagnosed with heart disease? Definitely not me, never in a million year, especially not when I was just 20 years old. But, hey it happened and thanks to medical advancements I am here to tell you all about it.
When I was just 20 years old, I began experiencing fainting episodes. For no reason I would suddenly feel as if I were going to faint, and then I would wake up on the floor. Of course I called the doctor right away and got an appointment. They ran all the necessary blood work and everything came back clear. But, I was still experiencing these fainting episodes. One time I was on vacation from college visiting my family, on my drive home I began to feel light headed so I pulled into a rest stop. Twenty minutes later I woke up, and had no idea where I was or what happened. I called my doctor and scheduled another appointment. Before my appointment I fainted again after getting out of the shower and fractured my wrist. This was it, I had enough.
I went to my doctor and demanded that he find out what was wrong with me. He said there was one last test he wanted to run, but expected it to come back clear as well. The test he wanted to run was called a Tilt Table test. It was just as it sounds, I was strapped to a table and it tilted at an 80 degree angle which would induce stress that causes fainting. 15 minutes into my test I passed out, when I came to I remember hearing the nurses yelling at me but couldn’t understand what was happening.
After what seemed like the longest time of my life I finally had an answer. It was something I never expected to hear. A cardiologist came into my room and very bluntly told me that I needed a pacemaker or I was going to die. I had a 15 second pause in my heart rate during my test. I panicked, pure fear coursed through my body as she left the room and left me with her physicians assistant. My first thought was to call my daddy, he would know what to do. Any parent can tell you that getting a phone call from your hysterical child saying they need heart surgery is absolutely terrifying.
I was diagnosed with Neurocardiogenic Syncope and Sick Sinus Syndrome. In simple terms my heart slows down so much that I pass out and my hearts natural pacemaker doesn’t work properly. We had several opinions after the initial diagnosis all confirming what the first Cardiologist said. Although one doctor did agree to try medication first. Being that I was only 20 years old at the time, we went with this option. Several months later I was still having issues, symptoms, fainting and I had enough. After fainting why working, I was transported by ambulance to the hospital where I made the final decision to have the surgery to place the pacemaker.
The down side to having a pacemaker placed is that you lose the use of your left arm for six weeks as the scar tissue grows around the leads placed in your heart. You are prevented from lifting your arm above your head, pushing, pulling, lifting etc. Not the easiest that’s for sure.
I started to feel semi normal again after a few weeks. It was a painful surgery as they make a pocket in your chest muscles for the pacemaker. The fainting was getting better, we had to find the perfect settings for my pacemaker and it took a bit of time to get them perfect. But once they did, it was awesome. I was able to start living my life again with out the fear of passing out.
Luckily for me I made a full recovery after my surgery and live a happy 9 years with my pacemaker. It wasn’t without it’s ups and downs, I had problems a few times but they were easily corrected with adjusting my pacemaker settings. The battery life varies on your pacemaker based on the frequency of use. My battery lasted 9 years, and was replaced on 1/31/2017. Boy did I forget just how painful this surgery could be, haha. This time around I don’t have as many limitations, but I do have some. Like no lifting, keeping it clean and dry to avoid infection. The struggles I face, as taking care of my little guy, cleaning house, cooking, everyday normal tasks. But heres hoping I don’t need surgery for several more year.
Are you at risk for heart disease?
Does heart disease run in your family? Yes, no, or you don’t know? If you don’t know, then ask. It is very important to know your medical history. Do you know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack? Well, lets find out together.
First thing first, schedule a well woman visit with your primary care doctor. Have them check your blood pressure, and Body Mass Index. Schedule blood work to find out your total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and blood sugar. Speak with your doctor about any family history regarding heart disease. If you have a higher risk of heart disease, consider scheduling an appointment with a cardiologist for a check up. What can it hurt, sure there is your copay, deductible and taking time out of your day. But what if I told you that making that appointment could save your life one day. Are you willing to schedule it now? You can download and take this risk factor quiz and bring it with you to your health care check up.
Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack
According to the American Heart Association these are the signs and symptoms of a heart attack in women.
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
- As with men, the most common heart attack symptom in women is chest pain or discomfort. But it’s important to note that women are more likely to experience the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, it is VERY important that you follow these steps.
- Do not wait to call for help. Dial 9-1-1, make sure to follow the operator’s instructions and get to a hospital right away.
- Do not drive yourself or have someone drive you to the hospital unless you have no other choice.
- Try to stay as calm as possible and take deep, slow breaths while you wait for the emergency responders.
Always remember one thing. Heart disease does not care if you are 20 or 75, it can strike at any time. Make your self aware of the signs and symptoms to help save your life, or the life of someone you know and love.
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