When you think of matters of the heart what comes to mind first? Love? Health? While we need to tend to both, I want to talk to you about the health part. As a registered nurse and women’s health advocate, I want to encourage all women to be active in their healthcare. Your heart matters. After all, you can’t love well if you can’t live well, and it’s hard to live well with a heart that is unhealthy- even if you barely know it or don’t realize it at all.
Heart disease is the number one killer of women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While heart disease can come in a variety of different forms, the most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD), which causes a narrowing or blockage of the heart arteries due to a buildup of fatty deposits. According to MedlinePlus, it is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. annually, and yet, most of us don’t know much about how it affects us.
Now more than ever, women need to take their heart health into their own hands. And here’s a hard truth: it's more difficult to diagnose CAD in women because we may not experience the more typical signs of CAD that men commonly do, like clutching chest pain and shortness of breath. Thus, while we are paying attention to signs and symptoms in others, like we all do, we often don’t even know the signs to look for within ourselves.
Instead we may experience symptoms that seem to be a part of our everyday lives: abdominal discomfort, upper back pain, fatigue. I bet you’re thinking: "Check, check and check". We often vaguely feel these symptoms, but think that they aren't worth going to see our healthcare providers for – but they are. We need to pay attention and actually make that appointment. We need to take care of ourselves with the same care we give others.
Worried that you don’t have time for a doctor’s visit or for testing? Fortunately, there are a range of CAD tests available, including a blood test that can be done right in your healthcare provider’s office to help rule out CAD as the cause of your symptoms.