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Premenopausal women and cardiac symptoms

23 Jul
by Carolyn Thomas      @HeartSisters

Most of you throughout your adolescent and adult lives have no doubt observed that hormone fluctuations during a menstrual cycle can affect certain body parts on certain days of that cycle. These fluctuations cause symptoms ranging from bloating to cramps, vivid dreams, fatigue, acne breakouts, food cravings, or irritability. (That word ‘irritability’ is doctor-speak to describe the act of threatening spouses with homicide if they leave that freakin’ toilet seat up one more time…)

For decades, scientists have also observed that women’s risk of heart attack increases after menopause. One theory for this age-related delay (compared to male heart patients, who generally tend to have their heart attacks a decade or so before we do) was the drop in female hormones at menopause, particularly estrogen. That timing seemed to intuitively make sense. Estrogen levels go down, heart attack rates go up. It’s why physicians believed for a long time that hormone replacement therapy in postmenopausal women could actually prevent heart attacks. (PLEASE NOTE: it doesn’t.*) Continue reading

First, there was compliance. Then, adherence. Now, concordance!

16 Jul

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

Non-compliant patients who, for whatever reason, do not follow doctors’ orders are a pain in the neck to their physicians. But to me, the most problematic part of that statement is the use of the word non-compliant. Simon Davies of the U.K.’s Teenage Cancer Trust once described it as “a word that sounds like it has punishment at the end of it.”  Yet physicians are frustrated about why so many of us refuse to take their expert medical advice. Continue reading

Excuse me while I bang my head against this wall…

2 Jul
by Carolyn Thomas      @HeartSisters
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Last week, the disturbing results of a study on women and heart disease were released, attracting media headlines like Women and Heart Disease: New Data Reaffirms Lack of Awareness By Women and Physicians. I had to go have a wee lie-down after I read this paper in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.(1)

The study’s lead author, cardiologist Dr. Noel Bairey Merz, of Cedars Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, announced that “increasing awareness of cardiovascular disease in women has stalled with no major progress in almost 10 years”, and (far more intensely disturbing, in my opinion): “little progress has been made in the last decade in increasing physician awareness or use of evidence-based guidelines to care for female heart patients.”

No wonder I had to lie down. But taking to one’s bed in response to yet another discouraging study about cardiology’s gender gap is no longer enough. Perhaps it’s time for female heart patients like me to simply throw our collective hands in the air while banging our heads against the nearest wall. Continue reading

The most dangerous kind of coronary artery blockage

16 Apr

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

We used to hear coronary heart disease described as “hardening of the arteries”, or atherosclerosis. I pictured this as some kind of clogged drain under an old sink, plugged up with years of disgustingly hard gunk. But it turns out that only about three out of every 10 heart attacks are actually caused by this kind of hardened coronary artery blockage.

The rest of us can blame soft, vulnerable and unstable plaque within the walls of those arteries. This may also help to explain (as I’ve written about here and here) why you can have a “normal” cardiac test one month, and be back in hospital the following month with a heart attack. Here’s how that can sometimes happen, according to experts at the Texas Heart Institute: Continue reading

“You’re young, healthy, thin – and nothing’s wrong with your heart”

18 Dec
Elissa and her family

              Elissa and her family

Elissa is a busy 32-year old professional violinist, a mother of three, and a violin teacher who also teaches part-time at her local university. Last year, the northern Utah resident began experiencing unusual symptoms that seemed to be heart-related: chest pain, shortness of breath and crushing fatigue.

These symptoms were so alarming that she knew she needed to seek medical help. See if you can spot the red flag as she tells her story . . .

Continue reading