A zebra among horses

A guest post by Laura Haywood-Cory – to help celebrate Rare Disease Awareness Day, 2/29/12

“Almost three years ago, I had a heart attack at the age of 40, with no family history or elevated risk factors. I’m not diabetic, I don’t smoke, my arteries aren’t clogged, and at the time, I was training for a triathlon.

“I was in shock to wake up one morning with textbook heart attack symptoms — pain in the center of my chest that radiated down my left arm and up into my neck and jaw, I had cold sweats, I felt nauseated.

“My husband drove us to the hospital, where they treated me as if I were having a heart attack–they gave me a nitro patch, an aspirin, drew blood, did a chest X-ray and an EKG–all the while telling me that it wasn’t my heart, because I was too young and too female.   Continue reading “A zebra among horses”

Misdiagnosis: the perils of “unwarranted certainty”

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

Until being misdiagnosed with indigestion in mid-heart attack, I generally trusted that all people with the letters M.D. after their names knew what they were talking about when diagnosing serious medical problems. That was long before I tracked down a study(1) reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that women under the age of 55 who are experiencing a heart attack are seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed and sent home from the E.R. compared to their male counterparts presenting with identical symptoms.

And that’s why I now find Dr. Jerome Groopman’s landmark book, How Doctors Think, so illuminating.  It should be required reading for all med school students.  Continue reading “Misdiagnosis: the perils of “unwarranted certainty””

“All the SCAD ladies, put your hands up!”

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

Heart attack survivor Laura Haywood-Cory, one of my heart sisters and a fellow “graduate” of the WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium at Mayo Clinic, emailed me with great excitement last week:

“The Wall Street Journal interview with Katherine, me and Dr. Hayes is now live!!”

This WSJ piece tells the inspiring story of how heart attack survivor  Katherine Leon, with Laura’s help, convinced a world-famous hospital to launch research on the rare and deadly heart condition they had each survived: spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD. (See also: When Your Artery Tears).  

Continue reading ““All the SCAD ladies, put your hands up!””

TV reporter Jennifer Donelan survives heart attack at age 36

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥ @HeartSisters

Television news reporter Jennifer Donelan was just 36 years old when she had a heart attack near the end of a busy day at work last September. Five months after surviving this horrific cardiac event, she’s now back at ABC 7 News in Washington, DC, where she hosted a three-part Heart Month series on women living with heart disease. She explained:  Continue reading “TV reporter Jennifer Donelan survives heart attack at age 36”

When your artery tears – Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

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Laura, a 40-year old American heart attack survivor, told me this story of her own cardiac event:

“I was asleep and my symptoms woke me up. I had several simultaneous symptoms, but the first one seemed to be chest pain in the centre-left, somewhat under my left breast area. I’d never felt anything like it, so sometimes it’s hard to describe – it wasn’t sharp or crushing or burning, more like a dull pressure. I also had pain down the inside of my left arm that radiated up into the left side of my jaw and my left ear.

“I was very overheated, and I felt like I was going to throw up. The nausea and overheating faded, but the pain – chest, arm, jaw – stayed. In hospital, I was diagnosed with a heart attack caused by SCAD – spontaneous coronary artery dissection, treated with six stents.”

It used to be, and sadly remains in almost 70% of cases, a deadly condition often only correctly identified post-mortem during autopsy.   Continue reading “When your artery tears – Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection”

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”