Words matter when we describe our heart attack symptoms

16 Nov

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

When I interviewed Dr. Catherine Kreatsoulas* about the research paper she presented last month in Vancouver at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress(1), she mentioned her previous heart study that caught my attention.

I was surprised by her explanation from that earlier research on how some women describe their chest pain during a heart attack (2), as she told me:  .   .
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Flexible restraint: it’s what’s missing from all fad diets

9 Nov

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

My long ago high school years were spent at Mount Mary Immaculate Academy, a convent boarding school up on the mountain overlooking Hamilton, Ontario. (Keep in mind, of course, that I’m using the Ontario definition of the word “mountain”, and not the more scenic, snow-capped, high-altitude British Columbia definition of something that actually looks like a real mountain out here).

But I digress . . .  Our Mount Mary classmates included a significant number of “Spanish girls”. These were the exotic international boarders from Mexico or Guatemala or other Spanish-speaking nations whose wealthy parents had sent their daughters north to Canada for a year or two of boarding school to help perfect their English. Our Spanish girls needed to become fluently bilingual in time for their über-extravagant celebrations back home called the quinceañera, a girl’s traditional fifteenth birthday party to mark the important passage to womanhood.

Skinny or pudgy, every Spanish girl was obsessed about her weight. They talked non-stop about dieting as the year-long countdowns to their quinceañera parties began. And whenever our Spanish girls were even remotely upset with their Canadian dormitory mates for any reason at all, the worst possible insult they could spit out at us was the only Spanish word I knew back then:

“Gorda!”

Fat.

And that’s about the time I started dieting.

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Heart attacks: “Men explode, but women erode”

2 Nov

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥ @HeartSisters

heart-460546_1280Los Angeles cardiologist Dr. Noel Bairey Merz believes that the biggest issue facing women heart patients is that as a society we have been programmed to think of heart disease as a man’s problem. During a presentation in Australia last year, she told her audience:

“The fatty build-up of plaque in a coronary artery causing a heart attack will usually rupture or ‘explode’ in men.

“But in women, it will often be a much smaller, more subtle event, caused by ‘erosion’, not explosion. 

“Often their symptoms may throw doctors off track to the wrong diagnosis, and in many cases, women won’t even know they have had a heart attack until it’s too late.”   .

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The symptomatic tipping point during heart attack

28 Oct

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

I’ve been fascinated by studies on why women wait so long to get medical help despite heart attack symptoms ever since the spring of 2008 when I spent way too long before seeking help for my own increasingly debilitating signs.  I sometimes replay that two-week experience in my little peabrain, and I ask myself the same question being asked by a team of Harvard researchers in a new study:

“Why do women wait longer than men before seeking help even when they’re in the middle of a frickety-frackin’ heart attack?”   .

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How gender bias threatens women’s health

26 Oct

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

Three years ago, I attended the 64th annual Canadian Cardiovascular Congress – not as a participant, but with media accreditation in order to report on the proceedings for my blog readers.  I arrived at the gorgeous Vancouver Convention Centre feeling excited to interview as many of the cardiac researchers attending this conference as I could squeeze into my 2-day schedule – particularly all the ones studying women’s heart disease.  I was gobsmacked, however, when conference organizers in the Media Centre told me that, out of hundreds of cardiology papers being presented that year, I’d be able to “count on one hand” the number of those studies that had anything even remotely to do with the subject of women and heart disease. Essentially, that appalling gender gap then became the Big Story of the conference for me. And every one of those four lonely little studies shared a conclusion that I already knew: when it comes to heart disease, women fare worse than men do.*  See also: The Sad Reality of Women’s Heart Disease Hits Home:

But already, I can tell that this weekend’s annual Congress (once again back in Vancouver) should do better.  This year, the 192-page conference programme lists over a dozen studies reporting specifically on women’s experience of heart disease.(1)  Sounds good – unless you remember that it’s a puny drop in the bucket for an international conference where over 500 original new scientific papers are being presented about a diagnosis that has killed more women than men every year since 1984.
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Little social support: a big gap for younger heart patients

19 Oct

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥ @HeartSisters

I used to offer to sell to my non-Ukrainian friends the guest list from our big Ukrainian wedding. Imagine 450 names, all of whom were raised in a wonderful Slavic culture that knows what to do when hard times strike. No sooner do they hear of a friend or neighbour’s problems (like a family tragedy or a serious health crisis) – and they start pitching in to help. Such support often starts with baking, cooking and getting the casserole dishes lined up on the kitchen counter for imminent delivery to the freshly-diagnosed patient’s fridge. Researchers know that having social support like this from others following a heart attack (or any serious health crisis) helps not only with physical recuperation, but also with emotional and psychological recovery, too. Yet virtually all published health research on the important quality-of-life issue of social support so far has been done on men.

White men.

White men, almost all of them seniors.

So lots of old white men studied, but very few women – and very few patients of either gender who were younger than 55 years of age.  But a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association finally attempts to address this gap.(1)  . . .
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First we had peer review – and now patient review!

17 Oct

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

You already know that research papers submitted for publication in medical journals are first subject to peer review before a final decision to accept the paper is made. Peer review is a time-honoured way to evaluate scientific or academic papers by others working in the same field.  But The British Medical Journal, the world’s oldest, has launched a unique initiative to include patient review of submitted studies as well. Here’s how BMJ editors explain this project:

“The BMJ has committed to improve the patient centredness of its research, education, and analysis articles by asking patients to comment on them. Patient peer review is a new initiative for The BMJ. We are taking the lead here, and hope other publishers will follow.

My own BMJ debut as a brand new patient reviewer for heart-related studies happened last month!  I described that experience to BMJ readers like this:    Continue reading

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