It’s Not Nothing

Tuesday December 18, 2012 began like any other day. I woke up at 5:45 am and began getting ready for work. When I was about to leave the house, I started to feel a bit strange. My arm was weak and I had a weird feeling in my stomach. I figured it was nothing and got on the road to work…

Halfway to work on the 101, I started feeling worse. My arm started to ache and I felt lightheaded. Starting to get worried, I called my husband for some advice. As any good husband would do, he insisted I go directly to the hospital instead of to work. I hate hospitals but I reluctantly agreed and I detoured off the 101 to head to Banner Desert. By the time I got there I was actually feeling pressure in my chest, but no actual pain. On a side note, I quickly found out that the ER staff takes chest discomfort seriously as I was in a room within minutes.

To be honest, I thought it was nothing, after all I had experienced the same symptoms three days earlier but the symptoms disappeared within about twenty minutes. I figured I would be wasting time, money and most importantly a day off just for them to tell me it was nothing. To my surprise and dismay, it wasn’t nothing this time…

After a series of tests including an EKG, heart x-rays and an ultrasound, everything appeared to be normal. My doctor, the on call cardiologist, was stumped. According to him, I had none of the “classic” risk factors for heart disease. However he did say that being overweight didn’t help. Since I told him that I had experienced the same symptoms just days before, he decided to run one more test. This time it was a test to see if there were cardiac enzymes in my blood. Unlike the others, this test did not come out normal. There were trace amounts of cardiac enzymes in my blood, which indicated to my doctor that something was going on.

The following morning he performed an angiogram to see what was going on in my heart. If you don’t know what an angiogram is, it is quite scary. A thin wire with a tiny camera on the end is fed up through the femoral artery into the heart. The camera projects images of your heart onto a monitor so the doctor can see any blockages or valve issues that may exist. I wasn’t put under but rather was in a “twilight” state where I could see what was going on but didn’t really care. It was creepy and cool all at the same time. Unfortunately the angiogram revealed that there were two arteries with blockages, so they immediately performed an angioplasty implanting two stents in my heart. After the procedure was over, I asked my doctor if I had had a heart attack and he advised that he considered it a “cardiac event” and not a heart attack because there was no damage done to my heart. I consider myself one of the lucky ones…

According to the CDC and the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer of women and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined. One in thirty one women dies from breast cancer, but one in three dies from heart disease. That is approximately one every minute. 90% of women have one or more of the risk factors for developing heart disease and since 1984, more women have died from heart disease than men. There are a number of risk factors for heart disease/heart attack and the risk increases with each one that we have. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and a family history of early heart disease are the common risk factors that most everyone knows about. In addition, eating an unhealthy diet and age are factors to take into consideration. However, there are other lesser known risks that I for one did not realize can contribute to heart disease. These include being a smoker, being overweight or obese and being physically inactive. Even though I have never been a smoker, I am overweight and have been relatively inactive most of my adult life.

When we think of heart attack signs and symptoms we generally think of the obvious one,  sharp shooting pain in the chest. For men, this is often the case but for women the signs are often much more subtle and easily passed off as other things.  Some of the signs of a heart attack for women include chest discomfort, but not necessarily excruciating pain and pain or weakness in the arms, neck, back and shoulders. (As I mentioned before, I had weakness in my arm) They also include pain in the jaw, stomach pain like heart burn or the stomach flu, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and trouble breathing. Women may also experience nervous or cold sweats, or fatigue. Many of these symptoms are easily dismissed by women with comments like, “I must have over eaten.” or “I must be catching the flu.” Fatigue or feeling tired is often explained away as “I’ve been working a lot of hours lately.” Aches and pains in the arms, neck, back and shoulders are often dismissed by saying “I must have pulled something when I was working out, it’s nothing.” How many times have you had an unexplained ache or pain or felt discomfort and then just dismissed it? I had been doing it for years, but this time, with a little encouragement from my husband, I listened to what my body was telling me. It was a good thing that I did…

You may feel silly or that you are overreacting if you go to the doctor or ER for these sort of symptoms, but believe me, your doctor will never tell you that you shouldn’t have come. He or she would say it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Finding my blockages early has allowed me to modify my lifestyle to lessen my risk of any future heart issues. Had I ignored  the symptoms, they may have disappeared as they did the first time, but the next time might have been more severe or worse yet, fatal. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t ignore it. Don’t say you’re too busy or you’ll go next time. For far too many women there isn’t a next time. It’s not nothing, this time it might be something…







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