Would you recognize the signs of a heart attack in yourself or a loved one? I thought I knew all of the signs and found out I was wrong. Earlier this year Dr. D’s mother died very unexpectedly of a heart attack. I became motivated to educate myself as much as possible about heart disease which is the number one killer of women in the United States. I’m very passionate now about this issue and I’ll blog throughout the rest of the year about how to protect yourself and your loved ones from this largely preventable disease.
This past weekend I walked in honor of my mother-in-law, Collye Lee Manning, in our community Heart Walk which is sponsored by the American Heart Association. I was very proud that my company, which has participated in this walk now for three years running, raised nearly $10,000 that will go towards heart disease education and research.
Dr. D. and I know that as African-Americans, we are in a high-risk group for developing coronary artery disease. We watch our diets much more carefully and religiously work out at least three to four times a week. We monitor our blood pressure and cholesterol since we both have a family history. Even with extra vigilance though, it’s important to recognize that anyone can have a heart attack. I learned that typical symptoms of heart attack in men include squeezing chest pain, jaw pain and abdominal discomfort. Popular movies often depict heart attacks as much more dramatic, but this is not always the case. Onset can be very subtle.
I’ve also learned that survival rates of heart attacks in women tend to be much lower than men because the symptoms are so easily mistaken for other ailments such as the flu or gastrointestinal distress. In women heart attack symptoms may include jaw pain, unusual fatigue, sleep disturbance, shortness of breath, as well as nausea, cold sweat and anxiety. Memorize these symptoms and don’t be embarrassed to go the emergency room to get checked out if you notice any one or combination of these. You could save your own or some one you love’s life.
My mother-in-law experienced nausea and abdominal pain and because it was the middle of flu season, it never occurred to us that she might be having a heart attack. I am still haunted by thoughts of what might be different if we had known the true nature of her symptoms. I’ll never know and it’s something I have to live with every day.
Finally, I’ve learned that knowing what to do when someone is having a heart attack is critical to their survival. The American Heart Association recommends immediately calling 911 and administering Hands Only CPR when you witness an adult collapse and become unresponsive. You can learn more on their website. To get a fuller understanding of CPR and first aid, I also highly recommend the certification classes at your local chapter of the American Red Cross. My certification recently expired and I plan to take a class this summer to brush up on my CPR and first aid skills to be re-certified.
In the long run, I hope that I can turn what has been a tragic event in my family into some good in my community in honor of an incredible woman who was taken from us too soon.
What about you? Has anyone in your family experienced a heart attack? Or has someone close to you experienced a major illness that made you re-examine your own lifestyle choices? What was your experience?