Even superwomen have heart attacks

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Here’s a story about a fit and apparently healthy woman who had a heart attack. We all need a reminder about possible symptoms.

The story comes from Washington Post journalist Gretchen Reynolds who wrote about her friend Anne.

They met when their kids were in school and bonded over their shared love of the outdoors. In the following years they often hiked and mountain biked together.

In 2017, with another friend, they trained for and completed a half-marathon.

During the covid isolation period Anne took to indoor cycling and rode every day for 800 days.

Gretchen says Anne also ate well, was a marvelous cook, didn’t drink, and never smoked. Her parents were long-lived and there was no known family history of heart disease.

But one afternoon in December she complained of nausea and fatigue after getting off her bike. Her right arm ached. She thought she had heartburn and took Tums (an antacid). She vomited.

Her husband urged her to get medical help. She declined.

Next morning, she collapsed in their bathroom and couldn’t be revived. She was 61 years old.

As much as Anne sounds like the poster girl for healthy ageing, nothing’s impossible and we’re all mortal. Plus, heart disease is the second most common cause of death (after dementia) among women in this country as well as the US.

My point isn’t to lessen the value of exercise or a smart diet, of course. A mountain of evidence supports those. But heart disease isn’t just physical. It can have mental and emotional elements too, and we’re all different.

We’ll probably never know why Anne died. She’d recently begun taking a statin for cholesterol, but she was on no other medication.

Her story should be a reminder not to dismiss possible symptoms, no matter how fit or healthy we think we are. It’s too easy to assume it couldn’t happen to us.

One heart specialist Gretchen spoke to advised paying attention to “any new symptoms above the waist”.

Sudden shortness of breath and profound fatigue are common in women having a heart attack. So is chest pain, tightness or discomfort; an upset stomach; or pain in the neck, back or jaw.

If anything shows up in that realm, get to a hospital. Regardless of what you have happening that day, or whether you think it’s just indigestion.

One female cardiologist told Gretchen she tells women that if they’d take someone else with those symptoms to the hospital, they need to get themselves there too.


Photo Source: Bike Radar

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