As the Clinical Exercise Physiologist in Cardiopulmonary Rehab at Fort HealthCare I work with all different types of people that have heart disease. As most people are aware, heart disease is the number 1 killer of men and women in America. Unfortunately, most people believe that heart disease only happens in individuals that are overweight, have diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, or have a strong family history of heart related issues. Although I do see people in cardiac rehab with those risk factors and more, I also see men and women who have had no risk factors for heart disease and are only 35-40 years old. I also see more men in rehab than women one reason being that women tend to ignore the signs for heart disease. A major culprit of heart disease is stress, which seems to happen more in women because generally they are the caretakers for families and don’t pay as close attention to their own health as they do for others. Pains such as shoulder blade pain, right arm pain, or a slight shortness of breath are occurrences that I find women most often ignore.
Instead of addressing those concerns with their primary care provider, women tend to attribute it to something else they did that day. I know being a mom of 3 and trying to do it all myself, it's easy to ignore signs of illness because someone else might need you more and you decide to push through it. As I write this I have a 2.5-year-old hanging on me sick and wanting attention.
In light of heart awareness month, women need to take notice of themselves and if they are experiencing signs of heart disease. It’s alarming that more women die of heart disease and don’t make it to cardiac rehab then men do. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), 1 in 3 Women die of heart disease each year, that’s 1 woman a minute. That is very frightening, and needs to change. However, what is even more concerning is that according to AHA only 1 in 5 women believe heart disease is their most profound health threat. More women need to recognize these national statistics, address them, and pay closer attention to their symptoms no matter how small.
One characteristic to note is that heart disease symptoms are not the same for women as they are men, and they can present themselves differently. For example, I have had women in rehab that only felt tired as their symptom. When I hear that, I think I’m screwed because I’m tired all the time. The difference is I haven’t stopped doing activities or not been able to tolerate activity because of fatigue.
From personal experience, I know what it’s like to ignore the signs. Under some of my more stressful moments I would get a dull ache in my chest on and off. I would let it go and contribute it to lifting weights that day or picking up my kids. But when it happened more and more I decided to have it checked out and get a stress test done to make sure. I feel that it is better to know and take action, then to have something happen unexpectedly where I’m not in control of my health any longer.
I know trying to fit something else into your already busy schedule can be a challenge, but it’s important to take a proactive approach when it comes to your health. You do matter, and those important to you know also. One easy way to take notice of your heart health is through your yearly doctor appointments. Make it a point to have a discussion with your primary care provider so that they can address your concerns and provide you with more direction and peace of mind. Building a relationship with your provider will help you stay in control of your overall health and prevent chronic diseases. We as women always want our families to do what is right and healthy- we need to do the same.
As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It’s not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.” Protect yourself and your loved ones.