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The shock – and ironic relief – of hearing a serious diagnosis

10 Sep

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

I vaguely recall my gurney being wheeled very quickly down a wide hospital corridor after I heard the words “heart attack” from the cardiologist who had been called to the E.R. I stared up at the ceiling lights flicking by overhead, feeling strangely calm. Here’s what I recall thinking in my strangely calm state: when I’d first come into this same E.R. two weeks earlier, scared that my symptoms of chest pain, nausea, sweating and pain down my left arm might be due to a heart attack, I had been right!

These symptoms had never been because I was “in the right demographic for acid reflux” (despite what the Emergency physician who’d sent me home that first day had confidently pronounced). But now, after two weeks of increasingly horrific symptoms, popping Gaviscon like candy, I just felt relieved that all of the people around me now would know how to take care of me. The shock of hearing my new (correct) diagnosis of heart attack was subsumed in that moment by a wave of profound relief. Continue reading

Women’s early warning signs of a heart attack

6 Aug

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

When Dr. Jean McSweeney from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences interviewed hundreds of heart attack survivors, she discovered something surprising: 95 percent of the women she interviewed actually suspected something was very wrong in the months leading up to their attack.

But even these early warning prodromal symptoms didn’t necessarily send women rushing to the doctor, as reported in Dr. McSweeney’s study published in the medical journal, Circulation.(1)  And for those women who did seek help early, doctors often failed to identify their problems as being heart-related.  Continue reading

European women face the same cardiac gender gap we do

21 May

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

I’m interested in women’s heart health, and because my Heart Sisters blog readers come from all parts of the world (in 190 countries at last count), that interest isn’t aimed only at women’s shared experiences here in North America where I live. As the World Heart Federation tells us, heart disease is the #1 global health threat to women everywhere on the planet.

Researchers know that the cardiac gender gap we worry about here is distressingly similar to what women around the world face, too. Here’s how one European cardiologist describes how she views this gap for the women where she lives:  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

Women’s heart disease: is it underdiagnosed, or misdiagnosed?

26 Mar

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

Do you know the difference between a medical condition that’s underdiagnosed, and one that’s misdiagnosed? I thought you’d never ask. . .  Underdiagnosis is a failure to recognize or correctly diagnose a disease or condition, especially in a significant proportion of patients, as in: “Heart disease in women is still being underdiagnosed compared to our male counterparts.”(1) But misdiagnosis is an incorrect, partial or delayed diagnosis of one individual’s illness or other medical problem, as in: “I left the Emergency Department with a misdiagnosis of acid reflux despite my textbook heart attack symptoms of central chest pain, nausea, sweating and pain down my left arm.”

The trouble is this: the more that misdiagnosis happens to individual women, one after another, the more likely we are to continue seeing underdiagnosis of women heart patients as a whole. Thank you to these heart patients who shared their own experiences of surviving a misdiagnosis: Continue reading