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HEALTHY LIVING — Ladies, you have to listen to your heart!

This column was inspired by the cardiac event experienced by a very sweet lady that I know.

Kathi started her Saturday with a trip to the gym. I’ll let her tell you in her words…

“I walked four miles at an even pace time of 16 to 17 pace time, nothing I couldn’t do. I developed, within two miles, a burning sensation in my chest, like heartburn from a cup of coffee. Well, I wrote it off as that and went on my busy day and mowed grass later that day.

“Monday the 25th, it returned … with another cup of coffee, all the antacids were nothing but a dulling affect. Tuesday morning was horrible.”

She ended up in the hospital on a nitroglycerin drip; the pain did not ease. An emergency arteriogram was done and the doctor found 100% blockage in the “widowmaker” — anterior interventricular branch of the left coronary artery. Only 45% of her heart was functioning. A stent was placed and the next morning, Kathi was feeling better than she had in quite a while. Now, she is a 57-year-old heart attack survivor with no prior heart disease issues.

No prior history of heart disease. Let that sink in.

I have another friend who suffered a heart attack last year; her only symptom was nausea. It was so severe, she went to a local emergency center and was sent home three times in one day before she was sent on to the hospital.

Although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a “man’s disease,” around the same number of women and men die each year of heart disease in the United States. Despite increases in awareness over the past decade, only 54% of women recognize that heart disease is their No. 1 killer. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for African American and white women in the United States. Among Hispanic women, heart disease and cancer cause roughly the same number of deaths each year. For American Indian or Alaska Native and Asian or Pacific Islander women, heart disease is second only to cancer. Almost two-thirds — 64% — of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms. Even if you have no symptoms, you may still be at risk for heart disease.

Now here is the tricky part: Heart attack symptoms present quite differently in women than they do in men. Women are more likely to describe chest pain that is sharp, burning and more frequently have pain in the neck, jaw, throat, abdomen or back.

These symptoms may include:

  • Heart Attack: Chest pain or discomfort, upper back pain, indigestion, heartburn, nausea/vomiting, extreme fatigue, upper body discomfort, and shortness of breath.
  • Arrhythmia: Fluttering feelings in the chest (palpitations).
  • Heart Failure: Shortness of breath, fatigue, swelling of the feet/ankles/legs/abdomen.
  • Stroke: Sudden weakness, paralysis (inability to move) or numbness of the face/arms/legs, especially on one side of the body. Other symptoms may include confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech, difficulty seeing in one or both eyes, shortness of breath, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, loss of consciousness, or sudden and severe headache.

Ladies, please, do not ignore these symptoms and if they continue for more than a short time, go to the emergency room. When you go for your yearly checkup, make sure your doctor includes a cholesterol check with your blood work and blood pressure check.

Kathi is a normally active woman, not obese, not sedentary, not someone you would suspect of having heart disease. The biggest mistake we can make is thinking, “It can’t happen to me.” It can and does, every day.

Here are a few things you can do to lower your chances of suffering a cardiac event. Stop smoking, limit alcohol, increase your activity, eat a healthy variety of foods, know your blood pressure and get your cholesterol and triglyceride levels checked. If you have a family history of heart disease, get yourself checked soon — don’t delay.

Listen to your heart, ladies. Stay healthy, my friends.

Jody Holton writes about healthy living for The Port Arthur News.