Is SCAD rare? Or just rarely diagnosed correctly?

by Carolyn Thomas   @HeartSisters    February 10, 2019

I was happy to see Katherine Leon featured in The New York Times recently. Katherine, like me, is a graduate of the WomenHeart Science & Leadership patient advocacy training at Mayo Clinic. She told the Times of undergoing emergency coronary bypass surgery at age 38, several days after her severe cardiac symptoms had been dismissed by doctors who told her, “There’s nothing wrong with you.” She isn’t alone. Many, many studies have shown that female heart patients are significantly more likely to be under-diagnosed – and worse, often under-treated even when appropriately diagnosed – compared to our male counterparts. This is especially true for women with her condition (Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection, or SCAD) that was once considered to be a rare disease. Dr. Sharonne Hayes is also featured in the NYT piece; she’s a respected Mayo Clinic cardiologist, longtime SCAD researcher and founder of the Mayo Women’s Heart Clinic. (You can read their story here).

But almost as soon as the Times piece was published online, I was gobsmacked to see some of the reader comments coming in – especially comments from people like these:   Continue reading “Is SCAD rare? Or just rarely diagnosed correctly?”

Is ‘being nice’ hurting women?

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters    September 30, 2018

Imagine the reaction from Emergency Department staff to the woman I met at my Mayo Clinic training, the one who had been sent home from Emergency three days in a row despite her complaints of increasingly distressing cardiac symptoms. Each time she arrived there, she clearly declared the following to the Emergency physician, who continued to repeatedly dismiss her concerns:

“I don’t care what you say. SOMETHING is wrong with me!”

What a royal pain in the ass, staff may have muttered about her, sotto voce.

On her third visit, the physician recommended anti-anxiety medications. But on the fourth visit, on that fourth day, she was taken directly from the E.R. to the O.R. to undergo emergency coronary bypass surgery. Continue reading “Is ‘being nice’ hurting women?”

Those curious cardiac enzymes

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

When I showed up in the Emergency Department with textbook heart attack symptoms – chest pain, nausea, sweating, and pain radiating down my left arm – the hospital staff snapped to work and immediately ordered a flurry of tests. These included an EKG, blood tests, chest x-ray and a treadmill stress test. But all test results came back “normal”. I was then told that I was in the “right demographic” for acid reflux before being sent home – less than five hours after the onset of symptoms.

I left hospital that morning feeling terribly embarrassed for having made such a fuss over just a little case of indigestion.  It was only much later – after finally being correctly diagnosed, taken directly from the E.R. to O.R. and admitted to the cardiac care unit for a myocardial infarction (MI or heart attack) caused by a fully occluded Left Anterior Descending coronary artery – when I learned that my “normal” blood tests may have been “normal” that day because I had been sent home too soon.  Continue reading “Those curious cardiac enzymes”

Women missing the beat: are doctors ignoring women’s cardiac symptoms?

woman mirror

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

True or false?  Every year, more women die of heart disease than men.

The answer is true, but if you didn’t know it, you’re in good company. In a survey of 500 American doctors (100 cardiologists, 100 obstetrician/gynecologists, and 300 family practice physicians) led by cardiologist Dr. Lori Mosca, only 8% of family doctors knew this fact, but – even more astonishing – only 17% of cardiologists were aware of it.

When it comes to women and heart disease, ignorance can be deadly. The misconception that heart disease is mostly a ‘man’s disease’ is one reason that women continue to be misdiagnosed or receive delayed treatment when experiencing symptoms of heart disease.

De Lori MoscaDr. Mosca, Professor of Medicine and Director of Preventive Cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, explains that women patients often report that their complaints were dismissed or that they were “blown off” by their doctors when they presented with heart disease symptoms. Studies show that there is a gender bias out there that women need to be aware of.

” Our own research has shown that physicians are more likely to label a woman at lower risk for heart disease than a man with the same calculated level of heart disease risk.”  Continue reading “Women missing the beat: are doctors ignoring women’s cardiac symptoms?”

The ‘bikini approach’ to women’s health research

by Carolyn Thomas

We know that, until very recently, cardiac research for the past three decades has been done either exclusively on men, or with women represented in statistically insignificant numbers. Medical researchers have largely taken a ‘bikini approach’ to women’s health care – in which women’s health research focuses on breasts and the reproductive system.

In a recent WomenHeart interview, Mayo Clinic cardiologist Dr. Sharonne Hayes, founder of the Mayo Women’s Heart Clinic in Rochester, MN, explains:

“In the 1960s, erroneous assertions that heart disease was a man’s disease were widely spread to the medical community and to the public.  This led to research almost exclusively focused on cardiovascular disease in men.  Many clinical trials in the 70s and 80s excluded women or simply didn’t make an effort to enroll women in sufficient numbers to draw sex-based conclusions.” Continue reading “The ‘bikini approach’ to women’s health research”

Five shocking truths about your heart

woman surprise red dress

by Carolyn Thomas

It’s my cardiac anniversary week!  Here are some things about women and heart disease that I’ve learned since I was hospitalized following a heart attack on May 6, 2008.

  1. heart attacks are more deadly for women than for men
  2. heart attack symptoms can be more subtle for women
  3. heart research focuses on men, not women
  4. for women, depression and heart disease are strongly linked
  5. heart damage starts in your 20s (25-45 is the age coronary disease typically starts) Continue reading “Five shocking truths about your heart”