February is American Heart Month and I would do my heart injustice by not writing about it. I try to be careful in how I talk about my heart. Sometimes, in effort to be brief and not get into personal details, I abbreviate my heart story by saying, “I have heart disease,” and leave it at that. Or I say, “I had a heart attack when I was 38 but I’m good now.”
A few months ago, attempting to explain away the reason I take so many medications, I said to a nurse, “Well, I have a bad heart.” As soon as the words left my mouth I paused, said no more, and wanted to yank the words back in. I felt awful. My heart has been through the proverbial ringer, with a heart attack and at least three different dissections/tears over the next couple years. It has been invaded by tubes and dye multiple times as doctors have gone in to look around and add stents. It beats with fantastic regularity. It pumps blood efficiently, and it accommodates the six stents that prop open one of its arteries. It is not a bad heart — not at all. I am incredibly grateful for all the work it does. It hasn’t failed me.
My hope in talking about my heart disease is to influence others to consider their hearts. About 80% of heart disease is preventable with lifestyle choices… the old adage of eating well, exercising, and working to keep stress to a minimum. The other surprising statistic is that more American men and women die from heart disease than anything else, including all cancers combined.
But statistics only share facts; they don’t tell stories. None of us consider ourselves a statistic, so we aren’t going to see ourselves in a fact. Stories are easier to identify with, and this is why I tell my story. Consider your own heart, your own story, within the facts.
As you think about eating and exercising, and about managing stress, consider the work of your heart. Will eating this food strengthen my heart and me, or will it make my heart work harder? Do I really want my heart to beat faster and my blood pressure to go up because of this irritating thing at work? Or is there a better way to deal with the stress than allow it to hurt my body?
You get the idea. As you consider other parts of your body and how you treat them, your face, your hair, your teeth, consider your heart.
My other hope in talking about my heart disease is to encourage people, especially women, to get things checked out if they think something is wrong. Ladies, our symptoms of heart attack include:
- Extreme or unusual fatigue
- Chest pressure, not necessarily pain
- Jaw and/or neck pain
- Back pain
- Anxiety, irritability
- Extreme sweating, feeling extremely hot
As you can see, these symptoms could be due to any number of other daily benign things… stress, hormones, sushi for lunch, or a cold. But, being very general here, one of the things I think women avoid most is speaking up for ourselves. If you have some of these symptoms in combination, or if any of them start suddenly and get worse, get yourself checked out. You aren’t overreacting and you aren’t causing a scene or making trouble for others. Please. You know when you know something is wrong.
This Friday, February 6, 2015 is National Wear Red Day to raise awareness, specifically, about women’s heart disease and the fact that heart disease affects more women than men.
Wear red on Friday if you can. Tell others why you are wearing red. And consider your heart.