Imagine working in your garden on a warm, sunny afternoon as spring makes way for summer. You’ve tended to your garden many times in the past but today you suddenly feel out of breath, slightly dizzy, and your back hurts.
These symptoms could be the result of bent posture and mild dehydration, or you may be experiencing a heart attack.
Heart attacks often present completely different in women than they do in their male counterparts according to registered nurse Laurie Brown, chief nursing officer at CHI Franciscan Health in Tacoma. “While (a women’s heart attack) might look the same as a man’s heart attack in terms of the typical chest pain that we all think of, quite often with women they’ll have other kinds of symptoms that are more general pain or discomfort.”
Since many women live with this misconception, the American Heart Association uses their Go Red for Women to educate women on how to avoid or mitigate heart disease while encouraging them to prioritize their health and achieve an optimal level of fitness. This message is especially critical when faced with the knowledge that heart disease is the number one cause of death among women in the United States.
Heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined according to Brown. “I think that is kind of a shocking statistic. I think we often focus on cancer and it certainly is something that needs attention and needs to be researched, but heart disease and stroke actually cause one in three deaths in the U.S.”
So how do you know when you are having a heart attack and when you are just not feeling well? Brown said knowing personal risk factors can help a woman determine what her symptoms mean.
First, Brown encourages women to really know and understand their family history. “If there is heart disease in your family that is something you want to pay attention to; that is certainly true in my situation, my grandmother, my father, and mother all have heart disease. My grandmother is no longer living but as I look through my family tree there is definitely a presence of heart disease.”
Additionally, all women (regardless of family history) should be sure to attend their annual well-woman exam with their primary care physician. “Make sure that lab tests are taken and think of the slogan ‘know your numbers’,” Brown said of the numerical results from cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar tests.
Ultimately each woman knows their body best. “In terms of the warning signs it is really just knowing your body, if this is a pain that is unusual, you should get it checked out,” Brown said.
It is estimated that 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes, an endeavor that Brown has recently undertaken after a stress test and subsequent heart catheterization test revealed some blockage in her heart.
“I think with cancer or other surgeries it’s more of an acute, in-your-face kind of ailment, but with heart disease it is something we live with and need to manage every day,” she said. “I think that was what turned the corner for me when it comes to food and what I put in my body; thinking of it more as a life-saving treatment than eating whatever is around.”
Now Brown and her employer, CHI Franciscan, are an active part of Go Red for Women. Brown is the chair of this year’s south sound Go Red for Women luncheon at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, while CHI Franciscan is one of the event’s sponsors along with national sponsor, Macy’s.
For more information on the event, visit their website.