Women urged to pay attention to warning signsSymptoms of heart ailments ignored amid busy lifestyles
DETROIT – Something wasn’t quite right. Linda DeSmet was gaining weight. She couldn’t figure out why. Then she started getting short of breath with the slightest bit of exertion.
By: Cassandra Spratling, Detroit Free Press (MCT), INFORUM
DETROIT – Something wasn’t quite right.
Linda DeSmet was gaining weight. She couldn’t figure out why.
Then she started getting short of breath with the slightest bit of exertion.
“If I walked a short distance, I had a hard time breathing,” recalls DeSmet of Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich.
She knew she should see a doctor, but she put it off. Then one evening, her sister insisted she get checked out. It’s a good thing she did.
“I was having congestive heart failure,” says DeSmet, an administrative assistant for the tech company HP in Detroit.
She ended up in the hospital for back-to-back heart surgeries in 2009 – the first to replace a defective aortic valve; the second to install a pacemaker.
Two years later, DeSmet is a healthy, active 60-year-old with a message for other women: “Take care of yourself. If you suspect something is wrong, check it out. We always blow it off, like I did. But we have to start putting ourselves first. We can’t take care of anyone if we’re in poor health.”
There are big reasons women should be concerned, according to the heart association, which this year marks the eighth anniversary of the annual Go Red for Women campaign – held in February. Among them:
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women ages 20 and above.
Heart disease kills more women than the next five most common causes of death of among women combined.
But here’s the good news: Women can take steps to prevent heart disease, and more research is focusing on women.
A study published in the Feb. 7 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology shows that therapy using statin drugs – cholesterol-lowering medication – can be just as effective in treating women at increased risk for heart disease as it is in treating men.
Women also should be aware that signs of heart problems differ for men and women.
“Men are more likely to experience the classic chest pains and sweating like you see in the movies. On the contrary, women are more likely to feel pressure or heaviness in the chest or even in the back or shortness of breath,” says Dr. Lalitha Rudraiah, a cardiologist at Henry Ford Macomb Hospitals.
One of her main messages is that women need to know the seriousness of heart disease, and they have to begin to take care of themselves.
“Women downplay the symptoms. They put off getting checked. They think, ‘Oh, I’m just feeling tired.’ Or ‘I’ll check it out later.’”
“I had a patient recently who started feeling chest pressure at 3 a.m. and she decided she had to wait until morning so she could drop her son off at school first, and then she came to the hospital.”
Fortunately, doctors were able to treat her, but it could have been much more serious, she says.
Rudraiah points out that a 2003 study of 520 women shows that almost 80 percent of those who had a heart attack reported having at least one symptom for more than one month before their heart attack.
Women must learn to distinguish between what’s normal and what’s not, doctors advise.
For example, Rudraiah says, if today you can do the laundry and the next day it leaves you exhausted, get checked out. Both an improved diet and regular exercise can improve heart health considerably, doctors say.