“You’ve done the right thing by coming here today”

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

One of the most upsetting things about being misdiagnosed with acid reflux in mid-heart attack was the sense of pervasive humiliation I felt as I was sent home from the Emergency Department that morning. I had just wasted the very valuable time of very busy doctors and nurses working in emergency medicine. I left the hospital feeling apologetic and embarrassed because I had made a big fuss over NOTHING.

And such embarrassment also made me second-guess my own ability to assess when it’s even worth seeking medical help. Worse, feeling embarrassed kept me from returning to Emergency when I continued to be stricken with identical symptoms: central chest pain, nausea, sweating and pain down my left arm. But hey! At least I knew it wasn’t my heart, right?

I now ask those in my women’s heart health presentation audiences to imagine what I would have done had my textbook cardiac symptoms been happening to my daughter Larissa instead of to me. General audience opinion is that I, like most Mums, would have likely been screaming blue murder, insisting on appropriate and timely care for my child. But as U.K. physician Dr. Jonathon Tomlinson pointed out recently, even parents can feel insecure about their own ability to know what is a real medical emergency – and what is not – when it comes to their children. For example:     Continue reading ““You’ve done the right thing by coming here today””

How having a wife shortens time to heart attack care

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

Help-by-LiminalMikeHere’s a news flash from the Department of the Bleedin’ Obvious . . .  Medical researchers tell us that married men suffering heart attack chest pain get to the hospital far quicker than single men do.  In my admittedly non-scientific opinion, this reality is entirely due to the fact that these married men have wives.

As Dr. Ralph Brindis, past president of the American College of Cardiology, once told a Wall Street Journal interviewer: 

“Thank God we have spouses. I can’t tell you how often, if it was left up to the patient, they never would have sought care.” 

According to one study, for example, a Canadian research team out of Toronto’s Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences found that the odds of men showing up at the hospital more than six hours after the onset of cardiac chest pain were a relative 65% lower in men who had spouses compared to their single male counterparts. (1)

In a spectacularly understated explanation for these findings, researchers reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal:

“We surmise that, in general, women may be more likely than men to take the role of caregiver and to advise their spouses to seek early medical assessment.”

This early medical assessment during a heart attack is crucially important, because we know that half of the deaths from a heart attack occur in the first 3-4 hours after cardiac symptoms begin. Now here’s the interesting – and utterly maddening – part of this surmising from the Canadian study: a similar association was not seen in married women.  In other words, being married did not mean that women were more likely than their single peers to seek faster help in mid-heart attack. Continue reading “How having a wife shortens time to heart attack care”

Why we ignore serious symptoms

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

Before my heart attack, I spent almost two decades as a distance runner. Many of the elite marathoners I knew (and certainly the one I happened to live with!) obsessed mercilessly on every detail of their last race, but not so much on the daily joys of running itself. It was the destination and not the journey that seemed to matter to so many of them, especially during race season.

The members of my own running group could never be accused of being elite runners. Our motto was: “No course too short, no pace too slow.”  But over those decades, whenever my group was in training for a specific road race looming on the calendar, I could watch myself being sucked into that seductive groupthink trap of running even when I was sick, running when I was injured, running because it’s Tuesday and Tuesdays meant hill work, running with an ankle or knee taped and hurting.

Getting to a more important destination (the race) became bigger than paying attention to those less important messages (don’t run today). In fact, I learned from other runners to deliberately mistrust whatever my lazy-ass self was trying to say.  I learned to ignore the messages my own body was sending me. Continue reading “Why we ignore serious symptoms”

Too embarrassed to call 911 during a heart attack?

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

When I was sent home from the Emergency Department with a misdiagnosis of acid reflux, I felt horribly embarrassed that I’d made such a fuss over nothing (well, nothing but textbook heart attack symptoms like chest pain, nausea, sweating and pain radiating down my left arm).  It then took me two full weeks of increasingly debilitating cardiac symptoms before I forced myself to return to that same hospital, desperately ill yet still not completely certain this could be heart-related. After all, hadn’t an Emergency physician with the letters M.D. after his name told me quite emphatically:

“This is NOT your heart!”

It was only when my symptoms became truly unbearable that I knew I had to go back to the E.R. This extreme reluctance to get help is what doctors call treatment-seeking delay behaviour, and in the middle of a heart attack, it can be a deadly delay. We already know that the average person in mid-heart attack will wait four hours before getting medical help.  Why? One reason may well be that we’re too simply too embarrassed to attract attention to ourselves during a heart attack.   Continue reading “Too embarrassed to call 911 during a heart attack?”

Yale Heart Study asks why we wait so long before seeking help in mid-heart attack

Did you know that even when experiencing textbook heart attack symptoms (like my own chest and left arm pain), people wait an average of four hours before seeking medical help?  The tragic irony is that heart patients who do best are those who can be treated within the first hour of those initial acute symptoms.

Heart attacks are dangerous and scary – so why do so many of us suffer silently for hours (and in many cases, far longer?)  This treatment-seeking delay behaviour concerns many researchers, including Yale University’s Dr. Angelo Alonzo. He told me:

“Ask people what they would do if they had a heart attack and, of course, they’d all  insist they would seek care immediately.  Sounds easy!  But in reality, few people actually do drop everything to get help.”    Continue reading “Yale Heart Study asks why we wait so long before seeking help in mid-heart attack”

Researchers openly mock the ‘myth’ of women’s unique heart attack symptoms

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

I was a woman on a mission while covering the proceedings of the 64th Annual Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Vancouver.  Specifically, my mission was to track down researchers working in the area of women’s heart disease. They were, sadly, few and far between, my heart sisters, as I had to explain here earlier.

“Out of over 700 scientific papers presented at this conference, I could count on one hand the number that focused on women’s heart health.”

Luckily, I did track down Dr. Karin Humphries from the Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, and her University of British Columbia doctoral student Mona Izadnegahdar. Their paper found, not surprisingly, that women under age 55 fare worse than their male counterparts after a heart attack.(1)

While chatting with me about their findings, Dr. Humphries and Mona happened to mention the “popular misconception that women and men present with different heart attack symptoms”.   Continue reading “Researchers openly mock the ‘myth’ of women’s unique heart attack symptoms”