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Informed consent: more than just a patient’s signature

13 Aug

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

The cardiologist was called to the ER and told me that he could tell by my T-waves and other diagnostic test results that I was having a heart attack. From that moment on, I could see his lips moving. I could hear sounds coming out of his mouth. I think I may have signed something before I was urgently moved upstairs to have what turned out to be a 95% blocked coronary artery unblocked. I was so stunned and overwhelmed, however, that I simply could not comprehend anything that was happening around me once I heard him say the words “heart attack”. He may have been speaking Swahili. . .

Yet I’m now pretty sure that the fact I signed a piece of paper somehow meant that I had participated in the informed consent process required of most hospital patients.

Does informed consent actually mean that it’s informed at all?  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

How does it really feel to have a heart attack? Female survivors answer that question

30 Jul

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

Having a heart attack felt nothing like how I thought it would feel.   For one thing, unlike sudden cardiac arrest, in which the heart stops beating and you stop breathing, during my heart attack (myocardial infarction), my heart continued beating, and I was walking, talking and conscious throughout despite horrific symptoms – so how could I possibly be having a heart attack?

Like most women, I’d never really thought about my heart – except maybe years ago when running up that killer Quadra Street hill with my running group. Yet we know that heart disease kills six times more women than breast cancer does each year (in fact, it kills more women than all forms of cancer combined).

Women need to know all the potential symptoms of a heart attack – both typical and atypical – and seek immediate medical help if these symptoms do hit.  So I asked some survivors to share their very first symptoms. Their heart attack stories may surprise you:
Continue reading

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

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