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 . . .
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.
“I’d love to speak about the patient’s perspective at your Toronto conference in June,” I said last winter in response to an invitation from Dr. Graeme Smith, a Canadian obstetrician who teaches at Queen’s University in Kingston and specializes in high-risk pregnancies. “But traveling halfway across the country is just too hard on me these days.”
Shortly after I turned down his kind invitation to speak, he invited me again (hey, he’s persistent!) – but this time he offered the irresistible option of speaking to the Toronto audience via teleconference:
“Does this mean I can stay in my jammies, drink coffee at my kitchen table, and just speak to your group over the phone?!”