Would you know the difference between the flu and a heart attack?
Three years ago Dr. D. lost his mother to a heart attack.
If I had known three years ago what I know today, I would have insisted my mother-in-law go to the emergency room right away when her symptoms started.
But we had no idea.
Heart disease is the number one killer of women and yet very few people know this. I was one of those people until I lost someone I loved dearly.
I had just returned from a business trip to Singapore when my mother-in-law knocked on my bedroom door late one night.
Could I go in the morning to the pharmacy to get some medicine for her nausea?
She told me it wasn’t urgent but she had been feeling badly for the better part of the day.
It was January and the flu was at epidemic-level in our state so we assumed this is what it was.
Over the next 24 hours her symptoms got progressively worse: chills, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and shortness of breath.
We talked about taking her to the doctor the next day if her symptoms didn’t improve.
We never had the chance.
Later that night she collapsed on the floor. Paramedics worked for on her for hours but she passed away in the early hours of the morning.
At the hospital, the attending ER physician told us Dr. D.’s mother had a massive heart attack.
We were in shock.
How did we miss the signs she was so gravely ill?
In the midst of overwhelming grief, we were forced to confront the fact that for nearly a full day and a half, what she had actually been experiencing were the symptoms of a heart attack – not the flu.
We will never know if we had taken her to the hospital earlier if Dr. D.’s mother’s life could have been saved.
What I know for sure is that we weren’t alone in our complete ignorance about heart disease and heart attacks in women.
As women, we tend to focus on the lives of our families at the expense of our health.
We skip regular check-ups.
We eat unhealthy food.
We know we should get more exercise but don’t.
Women of color are particularly susceptible to heart disease.
The good news is there is so much we can do to keep ourselves and the women in our lives healthy:
Choose a healthy lifestyle. Nutrition plays a fundamental role in heart health. By consuming vegetables, lean proteins and doing daily activity, most women can significantly decrease their chances of developing heart disease.
Know Your Numbers. Your blood pressure, cholesterol and BMI (body-mass index) are important indicators for risk-factors of heart disease. Check your blood pressure regularly and have your cholesterol tested at least once a year (more frequently if needed).
Understand Your Drug Therapy Options. For some of us, good nutrition and physical activity are not enough and blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medications may be in order. But these drugs only work if you actually take them so if your doctor prescribes medication, it’s important to be compliant and take your medication as scheduled.
Learn the symptoms of a heart attack. Unlike the movies, heart attack symptoms in women are different than what men experience. Some women experience no symptoms at all. When experiencing a heart attack, time is of the essence so it’s critical to get to an emergency room at onset. The American Heart Associations check list that I’ve linked to above provides a helpful primer.
There is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss Dr. D.’s mother. She was the heart and soul of our extended family and we all miss her beyond words.
I now honor her memory but taking care of myself but also making sure the women in my life know how to best protect themselves agains this terrible disease.
This month I’m asking every Boss Mom reader to commit to learning about heart disease and how to prevent it.
Take a few and visit the American Heart Association’s website and learn how you can spread the word and maybe save a life.
I hope you’ll join me.