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Heart Disease Awareness

Article by Michelle Sheely

Photography by Michelle Sheely

Originally published in Kirkland Lifestyle

According to the American Heart Association, a woman will die from heart disease every 80 seconds in the United States. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, and these statistics are widely unknown. It's time we gain awareness and take control of our health in order to reduce the number of women who end up as heart disease statistics. Surprisingly, cardiovascular disease kills more women every year than all cancers and respiratory diseases combined.  

I want to sound the alarm to all women regarding heart disease. I am writing this from my hospital bed, as this will be my third heart procedure in six months. I never thought I would be diagnosed with heart disease because I am an active woman with a healthy lifestyle. I am a vegetarian, a runner and a busy single mom. I completed the Nike Women’s Half Marathon just a few months before I was diagnosed with coronary artery disease. Doctors found a 95 percent blockage in my LAD artery. I was on the cusp of a fatal heart attack, but luckily, I got to an emergency room in time. My symptoms were chest pains and shortness of breath, and I could barely run without feeling winded. I knew something was wrong and went to the emergency room. Thank goodness—or else I wouldn’t be here today.

What is heart disease? According to the website GoRedForWomen.org, a site that raises awareness for heart disease in women, heart disease affects the blood vessels and cardiovascular system. Many problems can result from this, one of them being atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a condition that develops when plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries, making it difficult for the blood to pass through. If a blood clot forms, this can stop blood flow and cause a stroke, and if the plaque gets thick enough to narrow the arteries, this causes blood flow to be restricted, which can cause a heart attack.

Many women ignore the signs of heart attacks and delay going to the doctor. It is my goal to make sure that all women know to call 911 and go to an emergency room if they experience any symptoms of heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, these are the signs to look for:

  1. Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.

  2. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

  3. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.

  4. Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

  5. As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort, but women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

Please help me raise awareness by wearing your red ribbons proudly, and do yourself a favor by listening to your body. See your doctor, or visit an emergency room immediately if symptoms arise, and do not become another statistic. You are not being ridiculous, and nobody will think you are a hypochondriac. If you feel something is wrong, it probably is. Your health and your life are too important, so don’t ignore the signs, because if you do, it may be too late. Don’t be a victim!

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