Heart Disease in Women – A Heart Attack Survivor’s Story
Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year. Emily Holcraft was misdiagnosed while suffering from a heart attack. Read about her experience, and her strength to question and to persevere.
My name is Emily Holcraft and I would like to share my heart attack survivor story. I am 46 years old, a mother of 4 children and have been married for 23 amazing years. I have always maintained a healthy diet, am a triathlete and have no family history of heart disease. As I was training for my first triathlon I began feeling extremely fatigued. Thinking it was due to my training I decided to rest a day. I then began to experience pain to my left arm. I dismissed it as possibly having pulled my bicep muscle. But, it didn’t go away. I also began feeling very short of breath but felt it was related to an asthma flare up. I didn’t feel sick at all, just exhausted and frustrated. I kept trying to train but scaled my workouts way back. Over the course of 3 days it came to a point where I could barely swim 1 length of the pool. That morning it took everything I had to get myself OUT of the pool. Somehow I showered and managed to get to work. My co-worker took one look at me and knew something wasn’t right. I proceeded to tell her what had transpired over the last 3 days. She immediately asked me if I had a heart history. I said no, forgetting that I had a PFO closure in 2008 after having experienced a stroke. However, I didn’t feel that was relevant. She checked my blood pressure which measured 128/80. That was a high reading considering that I usually run 90/50. She insisted that I go to the ER. The pain in my arm was relentless and I was beginning to experience jaw pain. I, the stubborn person that I am, decided to drive myself to the hospital. I was examined at the ER. My EKG was normal and they dismissed my symptoms with a diagnosis of having a “panic attack.” My biggest concern at that time was my arm. The pain was ridiculous. Despite my persistence in asking for an ultrasound of my arm to make sure I didn’t have a blood clot, they sent me home with a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication. 4 hours later I collapsed on my living room floor. I was ambulanced back to the ER. Blood cultures were drawn which revealed I had had a heart attack. I was immediately taken in for a cardiac catheterization which showed 4 blockages 2 of which were greater than 90%. While the doctor was trying to place the stents the guide wire dissected my left main artery which led to emergency open heart surgery for a quadruple bypass. That was obviously not a normal occurrence. I woke up 2 days later in Cardiac ICU not even knowing that I had surgery let alone OPEN HEART surgery. I remember asking my surgeon as he stood at the end of my bed, “does this mean I can’t do my triathlon next month?” Can you imagine?! I actually asked him that! Obviously he kindly remarked, “Not this year honey.” I was 41 at the time. After several months of Cardiac Rehab and numerous setbacks I finally regained my pre-heart attack fitness. And I am happy to say that I crossed that finish line I had intended to cross 2 years prior. I have since done 11 triathlons and a Century bike ride (100miles!). I am on several heart medications but am happy to say that I am alive and doing very well! I keep up with my Cardiology appointments and have learned to listen carefully when my body is trying to tell me something. So far so good! A takeaway for your readers? It can happen to anyone! Again, I was 41 years old, excellent diet, an athlete with no family history of heart disease. Silent killer? I would say yes.
Emily M. Holcroft RN, BSN
Heart attack symptoms in women are often different from those in men. Following are some of the heart attack symptoms for women:
- Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in one or both arms
- Nausea or vomiting
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Unusual fatigue
To reduce your chances of getting heart disease it’s important to:
- Quit or don’t start smoking.
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight and obese raises your risk of heart disease.
- Eat a healthy diet that includes whole grains, a variety of fruits and vegetables, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and lean meats. Avoid saturated or trans-fat, added sugars, and high amounts of salt.
- Know your blood pressure. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can result in heart disease. High blood pressure has no symptoms so it’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly.
- Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you should be tested for diabetes. Diabetes raises your chances of heart disease.
- Have your healthcare provider check your cholesterol and triglycerides.
- Limit alcohol intake to one drink a day.
- Lower your stress level and find healthy ways to cope with stress.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/features/wearred/index.html