Focused Cardiovascular Care for Womenis the name of an important report about women’s heart health published in February of this year. One of the report’s highlights (or lowlights!) was that very few if any hospitals actually offered focused cardiac care specifically for women before the year 2000.(1) One reason for this may have been that, as the report’s authors explained, “the concept of Women’s Heart Clinics was met with hesitation from many cardiologists.”
When I was about eight months pregnant with Ben, my first baby, I was diagnosed with something called preeclampsia. This is a serious condition affecting about 5% of pregnant women, identified by symptoms like sudden spikes in blood pressure, protein in the urine, severe swelling and headaches or vision problems. It’s also women’s third leading pregnancy-related cause of death. Preeclampsia is clinically described as:
“…a disorder of widespread vascular endothelial malfunction and vasospasm that occurs after 20 weeks’ gestation”.
Whenever you see the words “vascular” or “endothelial” or “vasospasm” in the same sentence, you know you’re likely talking about the heart. And although preeclampsia typically goes away after pregnancy, its diagnosis may well be an early indicator of underlying heart conditions that may simmer for decades. In fact, studies now show that pregnant women who develop preeclampsia have more than twice the risk of having a heart attack or stroke later in life.
In the last few years of her life, my siblings and I had reached the point where we knew it was time to move our elderly widowed mother into a residence for seniors. Already showing signs of dementia and no longer safe to remain on her own in her large home, she had become increasingly miserable. She didn’t want to change anything, however, and we worried that she would hate this disruptive move into her new two-bedroom assisted living suite.
So we were thrilled shortly after her first week there when she excitedly told us about the nice new people she’d already met, all of the fun group activities scheduled each day, and the red blouse she had picked out to wear to the annual Valentine’s Day party that the staff were organizing later that week. She seemed to be happier and more alert than she had been in a long time.
Preventing social isolation is particularly important, not just to those moving into seniors’ homes, but to every aging Baby Boomer no matter where we happen to live – and particularly because of the startling link between social isolation, loneliness and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Back in 1959, cardiologists Drs. Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman submitted a research paper to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Their study was accepted and published; it suggested a correlation between coronary artery disease and those living with “overt behavior pattern A” – a link the co-authors claimed was as significant as smoking, cholesterol and high blood pressure.(1) Their subsequent best selling book Type A Behavior And Your Heartin 1974 prompted further studies by other researchers, and soon “Type A personality” became a popular term in our everyday conversations. The name described people who exhibit personality traits like hostility, impatience, competitiveness, drive, perfectionism and an unhealthy dependence on external rewards.
Imagine that your daughter is preparing for a ski race. It’s five minutes before the start of the race. You want to give her some meaningful advice. Which one of these two messages are you going to use?
1. “Honey, remember to do XYZ – it will help you avoid falling!” 2. “Honey, remember to do XYZ – it will make you faster and you’ll have more fun!”
For the freshly-diagnosed heart patient, the immediate and sudden change from “being well” to “recovering” cuts directly to the core of self-concept and self-esteem, according to Dr. Wayne Sotile. He offers a surprisingly familiar list of seven sudden changes commonly observed after a cardiac event. When thinking back on the new reality of my own early post-heart attack days, I was able to tick off his list, point by point. If this had been a midterm exam, in fact, I’d score a perfect 7/7. On his list of seven stressors that newbies often face, how many ring true for you, too? Continue reading “Do you fear change? Then don’t have a heart attack”→