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Hypervigilance: waiting for that second heart attack

9 Sep

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters    September 9, 2018

511724-0211-23Until I had a heart attack, I didn’t know that one of the biggest risk factors for having a cardiac event like mine is having already had one. Heart disease, a chronic and progressive diagnosis, is the gift that keeps on giving. And as I wrote here, one of the Big Lessons for me has been that, although my doctors can “squish blockages, burn rogue electrical circuits, and implant lifesaving devices”, their heroic efforts do not address what originally caused this damage to my coronary arteries in the first place – likely decades before my heart attack struck.  See also: The Cure Myth

In fact, women are twice as likely to have a second heart attack in the six years following the first compared to our male counterparts.(1)  No wonder sobering stats like this can drive the freshly-diagnosed heart patient to an exhausting and fearful state of acute hypervigilance. Continue reading

How heart patients can untwist that twisted thinking

10 Dec

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

The freshly-diagnosed heart patient has plenty of opportunity to start thinking thoughts that are new, bizarre and sometimes even frightening. Any life-altering diagnosis can throw us off-balance emotionally, but with heart disease, even the tiniest twinge of new chest pain can paralyze us. Is this something? Is it nothing? Should I call 911 again? As Australian cardiac psychologist (and more importantly, a heart patient) Len Gould likes to say: “Before a heart attack, every twinge is just indigestion. After a heart attack, every twinge is another heart attack!”

And our worried thoughts can stick around far longer than they should, as we play them over and over and over like our first Beatles album. Mental health professionals call this kind of twisted thinking cognitive distortion. Continue reading

When are cardiologists going to start talking about depression?

26 Nov

by Carolyn Thomas    ♥   @HeartSisters

I can vividly remember those early days and weeks at home after surviving a heart attack, especially that cold creeping anxiety around how I “should” be feeling. I had just survived what many do not: what doctors still call the “widow maker” heart attack. (By the way, note the gender semantics there, please: doctors are not, after all, calling this the widower maker”).

I was now resting comfortably, both of my darling kidlets had flown back home to be with their Mum, our home was filled with flowers, get-well cards and casseroles delivered by the daily line-up of concerned friends, family, neighbours and co-workers.

So why was I feeling so bleak inside, and even worse, now feeling guilty for all that bleakness?  Continue reading

Dear Carolyn: “My husband’s heart attack was treated differently than mine”

15 Oct

 

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

As I’ve repeatedly insisted, my Heart Sisters blog readers are the smartest, kindest, sharpest and best-looking readers out there in the blogosphere.  As part of my Dear Carolyn series of posts featuring my readers’ unique stories about becoming a heart patient, this one involves a plot twist that, sadly, sounds maddeningly familiar.

Today’s Dear Carolyn tale focuses on one of my favourite themes in women’s heart health: being misdiagnosed with acid reflux during a heart attack, and it stars my loyal reader, Kathleen: Continue reading

The delayed ‘Trauma Drama’ of heart disease

26 Feb

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by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

Summer Ash is a self-professed space cadet. She’s an astrophysicist at Columbia University’s Department of Astronomy in New York City, where she serves as the Director of Outreach. Five years ago, she underwent open heart surgery after she was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm (that’s when the tissue of the aorta balloons out dangerously). This condition was likely linked to a congenital heart defect Summer was born with called a bicuspid aortic valve. About 99% of people, she explains, are born with a normal tricuspid aortic valve (meaning three leaflets in the valve), but she was one of the 1% born with only two. With her kind permission, I’m running her story here as it was originally published in 2014 on her blog, Defective Heart Girl Problems.
Continue reading