This one’s personal. I remember well the day my mother had her heart attack. I was home from university, studying for exams and she and I were going to do a test drive from Burlington to the hospital in Hamilton where I would be working for the summer. She wanted to make sure that I knew how to navigate all the busy one-way streets and how long it would take to drive in rush hour before my first day. I get my planning skills from her.
My mom routinely rose at the crack of dawn and so I was surprised that she was still in bed when I got up. “I’m not feeling well,” she said. “I’m really sorry but we won’t be able to do the trip today.” She seemed more concerned about disappointing me than in her own health. When I asked what was wrong she told me she had been vomiting since the early hours of the morning.
Most of us would normally dismiss this as some kind of 24-hour bug that would be gone in no time. I offered to get her some water or dry toast and that’s when she told me that she also had heartburn. Then I asked her if she had any pain in her left arm. “Yes…” she said. From then it’s a blur – alerting my dad, calling 9-1-1 on the old rotary phone, running down our long laneway to flag down the ambulance as our farm house was on the “hard to find” list for emergency services. Sure enough it was a heart attack. Mom lived through that event but unfortunately, we lost her the following year to a sudden brain aneurism. Less than 10 years later, we would also lose my mother-in-law to heart disease. One of my greatest regrets is that my children never met these remarkable women.
According to the Heart and Stroke website, “heart disease and stroke will kill 31,000 women in Canada, but most women are unaware of the threat.” It is currently acknowledged that women have some unique risk factors for heart disease and that they may also present with different symptoms than men when having a heart attack. The following link will take you to the website to find more information about how women’s heart health is different from men’s and how to recognize risk factors and signs. Click here to view the webpage.
The good news is that almost 80 per cent of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented through healthy behaviours. I know that I can’t do anything about the risk factors that relate to my family history. If anything, they give me greater motivation to think about those that I can control. I’ve spoken in a previous blog about my commitment to a healthier lifestyle here.
I write this blog today for my family, friends, neighbours, and every woman who is a vital caretaker of themselves and others. My mother looked after everyone else’s needs first. Women are only half as likely as men to attend cardiac rehabilitation programs after a heart attack and they are less likely to be prescribed cholesterol lowering medication after a heart attack. There is something systemically wrong about the way we approach heart healthcare for women that needs to change.
Know the risk factors and signs and symptoms. Take preventative measures. Advocate and care for yourself. Join me in changing the curve on heart and stroke disease in Canada.