My love-hate relationship with my little black box

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

Every morning, I clip it onto my belt, or tuck it into a hip pocket.  I very carefully attach its sticky little electrode pads onto the skin just over my heart, tucking their long black wires under my clothing. Lately, I also have to hold the electrodes in place on my skin with surgical tape because they’re starting to lose their stickiness after so much daily wear. I turn on the black box at my waist, and adjust its two knobs to the correct power levels. I feel a prickly little buzz pulsating across my chest.

It’s called Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS), and it involves electrical impulses called neuromodulation to treat the chest pain (angina) of Inoperable Coronary Microvascular Disease (MVD).

My portable TENS unit is about the size of a small cell phone. You may know the much larger version of this machine if you’ve ever had physiotherapy treatments following a muscle injury.  The only wounded muscles it’s working on for me now, however, are those in my heart. Emerging cardiac research is showing that, just as the TENS machine works on improving blood flow, reducing inflammation and speeding up healing for an injured shoulder or knee, it may bring the same benefits to heart patients with MVD like mine.

But I do have a love-hate relationship with my little black box.  Continue reading “My love-hate relationship with my little black box”

How women can have heart attacks without having any blocked arteries

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

Turns out that the kind of heart attack that I had (caused by a 95% blockage in the big left anterior descending coronary artery) – the so-called widowmaker heart attackmay actually be relatively uncommon  in women. You might guess that fact by its nickname.  It’s not, after all, called the “widower-maker”.

While cardiologists warn that heart disease can’t be divided into male and female forms, there are some surprising differences. Cardiologist Dr. Amir Lerman at the world famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told the Los Angeles Times recently:

“When it comes to acute heart attacks and sudden death from cardiac arrest, women have these kinds of events much more often without any obstructions in their coronary arteries.”

Instead, it appears that a significant portion of women suffer from another form of heart disease altogether. It affects not the superhighway coronary arteries but rather the smaller arteries, called microvessels. These tiny arteries deliver blood directly to the heart muscle.

Ironically, I can now boast two diagnoses for the price of one – first, the widowmaker heart attack caused by a fully occluded coronary artery back in 2008, and then, after several months of puzzling, ongoing cardiac symptoms – like chest pain, shortness of breath, and crushing fatigue – a second diagnosis of inoperable coronary microvascular disease. Continue reading “How women can have heart attacks without having any blocked arteries”

Mayo Clinic: “What are the symptoms of a heart attack for women?”

by Carolyn Thomas @HeartSisters

It’s been in the news. It’s been presented at cardiology conferences.  It has set cardiac circles and women heart attack survivors abuzz. It’s the question of whether women present with heart attack symptoms that are different than those of men.  The media attention surrounding the claims of this study conclusion has put women’s awareness of heart disease back a decade, in my opinion.  Continue reading “Mayo Clinic: “What are the symptoms of a heart attack for women?””

His and hers heart disease

heart man womanby Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

Should we invent a new name for women’s heart disease? A review on the topic of gender differences in heart disease reminds us what many heart attack survivors already know: when it comes to heart attacks, women are not just small men.

Standard cardiac treatment typically focuses on obstructive coronary artery disease, which up to half of women may not ever experience. In obstructive coronary artery disease, the large blood vessels in the heart can become blocked through atherosclerosis, a condition in which fatty cholesterol streaks build up in the arteries.

In fact, the Framingham Risk Score, based on a study of over 5,000 participants (and their descendents) followed since 1948, is the traditional measure of heart disease risk, yet this scale mistakenly classified almost 90% of women as low risk – which is hard to get your brain wrapped around given that more women than men die each year from heart disease.

But in small vessel disease, the narrowing of the very small arteries in the heart means they can’t expand properly. As a result, your heart muscles don’t get an adequate supply of oxygen-rich blood. This inability to expand is called endothelial dysfunction. This problem may cause your small vessels to become even smaller when you’re active or under emotional stress. The reduced blood flow through the small blood vessels causes chest pain and other debilitating symptoms similar to those you’d have if you were having a heart attack. Continue reading “His and hers heart disease”