The heart of the matter

I have a bad heart.

After my first daughter was born I went into heart failure, a phrase that gives most people an image of me doubled over clutching my chest while doctors rushed around with crash carts. In reality, it involved a quiet exam room and a doctor calmly telling me that my heart was failing. If the cardiologist had not caught it, however, my heart would likely have continued to deteriorate until it simply gave out or I got a transplant.

But I am one of the lucky ones. My heart responded to treatment. I was even able to have another child despite initial warnings that I could not.

Although my specific disease is rare, heart disease among women is not. It is the No. 1 killer of women. One in three American women die of heart disease every year (compared with 1 in 30 from breast cancer).

Unfortunately, I think women have a tendency to ignore health and heart symptoms for a couple reasons.

First, we don’t want to be the paranoid patient. It doesn’t help that the symptom of heart disease for women are pretty vague complaints like neck pain, nausea, shortness of breath and fatigue. What mother doesn’t have those symptoms on a regular basis?

I know the only reason I’m here today is because I insisted that something was wrong with me. The nurses in the hospital reassured me that my shortness of breath was because I had just delivered a baby. Anyone would be tired!

A follow-up visit to the emergency room ruled out blood clots and the doctors sent me home “to get some rest.” I left feeling like I was either crazy or the biggest wuss on the planet. I was diagnosed with heart failure a few days later.

Second, we feel like we don’t have time for a doctor’s appointment. And then, what if the doctor actually finds something wrong? I do NOT have time for a coronary bypass this month!

So we bump our hearts to the bottom of our “to do” list and convince ourselves that our symptoms aren’t that bad. Well, in honor of American Heart Month, I’m here to say STOP IT! If you have any symptoms of heart disease (click here for more resources), swallow your pride and make the time to see a doctor.

Do it for yourself. Do it for your children. Do it now. Have any of the women in your life been touched by heart disease?

Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, Stewart discusses it all while her 3-year-old daughter crams Mr. Potato Head pieces in her little sister’s nose.

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