A few days ago, I learned that the woman who portrayed Princess Leia, my earliest female role model, had died. I was heart broken.
Heart broken, that’s an expression that invokes a lot of emotion and conveys so much imagery. Many things contribute to a broken heart; the loss of love is one that we think of first.
Wikipedia describes a broken heart this way — “a term metaphor for the intense emotional — and sometimes physical — stress or pain one feels at experiencing great longing.”
My heart was broken yesterday at a life cut too short by heart disease. My heart is also broken that there are still so many women out there who don’t think that heart disease could happen to them, or more importantly, do not recognize the signs of a heart attack.
My family has a history of heart disease. Many of the men in my family have suffered from angina, high blood pressure and have had strokes or heart attacks leading to their early deaths. Even knowing my family history of heart disease, I was indifferent to the fact that heart disease could be a problem for women as well, and I’m not sure why I didn’t think of that, as both of my grandmothers died of heart disease. One died of a massive heart attack, and the other suffered a series of strokes, the last of which killed her.
In spite of this, I breezily went along not thinking I was at risk of heart disease. I didn’t think I was having any heart related health problems, until a recent visit to my family doctor indicated that I am slightly hypertensive.
As a nutritionist, I do my best to eat healthy, but I had recently gone through a long period of stress. Combine this stress with the fact that I am not at my best or healthiest weight, that I don’t exercise as much as I should, and have gone through menopause, they all put me at a greater risk for heart disease. And now that I am hypertensive, I am in an even higher risk category.
Did you know that every 7 minutes in North America, someone dies from heart disease or stroke? Heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death for women in Canada and the United States. In fact, heart disease and stroke kills seven times more women than breast cancer. Women who are menopausal, have diabetes, and are sedentary are especially at risk.
As women, we spend our days looking after others, and very often put our own health on the back burner, not thinking that heart disease is something that can affect us.
Although symptoms are generally the same for men and women, women are more likely to experience symptoms that are less definite, such as chest discomfort rather than pain.
For women, chest pain may not be the first sign of heart trouble. Women have reported experiencing the following symptoms prior to a heart attack:
Learn how to recognize the warning signs of heart disease and stroke and take preventive action and control your risk factors.
Do you have a history of heart disease in your family? What are you doing to reduce your risk?
Originally published at medium.com