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MedWatch: Women’s Heart Health

Women often pride themselves in being able to “get it all done.”

From work to home, kids to husbands, laundry to dishes, errands, practice, meals: it can be a lot.

One thing that often falls by the wayside is their own health.

But that, in reality, should be priority number one.

Corey Adkins and Michelle Dunaway bring you this month’s MedWatch report on the importance of women’s heart health.

Cindy Watkins of LeRoy says she values life more today, because she says she almost missed the important milestones of watching her kids grow up.

But today, her kids are grown, and she has grandchildren – after a serious health scare years ago, when she was in her early 40s.

She says she was out of breath, falling asleep in meetings and assuming it was all something else.

“For about a couple of weeks I was having this discomfort in my chest and I thought it was like heartburn or something like that. I was taking Tums and my friend Barb at work, she would bring me Tums to work I would keep taking them because it made me feel better,” explains Cindy.

But they weren’t making her better, and she ended up in the hospital.

She says, “When I got in there I had an 85% blockage in the LAD, which is what they call a widow-maker, because a lot of the times people don’t have symptoms from what I understand, or they don’t pay attention to symptoms and the blockage can break off and create a heart attack.”

She never had an actual heart attack, but this was scare enough.

Cindy remembers thinking, “I don’t want someone else to take care of my kids because they were 8 and 12 and that was my first thought. I don’t want someone else taking care of my children so I need to make some changes.”

Munson Medical Center cardiologist Anna Stone says Cindy’s story is not unique. “I think women tend to put off their symptoms. They are often the caretakers in the family, and so a lot of time will dismiss the symptoms they have. They might just think that’s the sign of a stressful life that they’re in. I think that it’s a very important message to let women know that they also need to take care of themselves in order to take care of other people.”

She adds that for women and heart health, knowledge is power. “Women definitely need to get routine examinations from their physician. Being able to know your numbers with your blood pressure, your weight, your cholesterol is really important.”

Something else every woman should know is their family health history.

Dr. Stone says, “If your dad had a heart attack before age 55, or if your mom had disease before age 65, knowing that you’re at an increased risk is very important.”

Other risk factors include having high cholesterol, being diabetic, overweight or using tobacco.

When women experience coronary symptoms, it can be the typical chest pain or pressure, but Dr. Stone wants women to know that there are other, less obvious signs, “They go to the jaw, the back, the shoulder blades, they can feel just anxiety or they can feel palpitations overall they can just feel a decline in exercise tolerance as well.”

Cindy said her pain was very specific, “Like a wide rubber band just tightening up around my chest all the way around, not just my heart area.”

Today she has two messages to share — one is to know your family history. The second came from the nurse who treated her when she was hospitalized so many years ago. She told Cindy, “You need to make your doctors aware of your fears and feelings you’re having to they can evaluate you.”