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My mum had her first heart attack at age 61.

In 1988 Mum had 3 separate cardiac events; 2 heart attacks and a cardiac arrest. Lucky for Mum (and the family) she had the cardiac arrest in a Coronary Care ward at a hospital where there was easy access to defibrillators and lots of highly qualified people to get you going again.

If you’re going to have a heart attack or a cardiac arrest the best place to be is a hospital.

Even if you don’t think you’re having a heart attack …..  GO ANYWAY!!!!! (you’ve been wrong before).

Each minute you procrastinate, umm, aah, google or think the good old  “let’s just wait and see” increases the potential for heart damage. Even if the damage isn’t too bad (as if ‘good heart damage’ is a thing) its cumulative folks.

It’s like trying to work out which kilo made you overweight.

Also, check this out. Print it out. Stick it on the fridge. Email it to everyone you know… who cares if they get annoyed at you bangin’ on about their health. Go here: Heart Foundation’s Heart Attack Action Plan

So what has my mum’s story got to do with menopause? Possibly nothing, though likely everything… She’d (likely) been through menopause 15 or so years earlier following a hysterectomy when I believe they removed the ovaries as a matter of course.  I don’t really know as she went off to God in 2005. She also had just about every contributing factor working toward that perfect storm cardiac history: postmenopausal female, smoker, high cholesterol, diabetes, stressed out disposition (x infinity). Yup …..

It was the perfect storm.

Now this post is about heart health and menopause, right? Correct.

Back to Mum for a bit. The second time (I believe she had a heart attack about 2 weeks earlier while gardening) it happened, she had a lot of symptoms: clammy, sweaty, exhaustion, jaw pain, nausea, breathing changes. She would not allow an ambulance to be called (which is completely irrational and a story for another day) so Dad drove her!!! Oh …. Did I mention mum was a registered nurse for 30 years FFS? ????

By the time she was in the Coronary Care unit, many hours (and weeks after event #1) had passed, the situation was ripe for a cardiac arrest.

As the graphic above shows, a heart attack is a blockage within an artery and a cardiac arrest is an electrical problem with the heart. As poor old mum demonstrated, whilst not every heart attack may lead to arrest, eventually one will, the question is which and the answer is you’ll never know if you’re dead. 

The other potentially, life altering side of a delay to seeking medical attention and treatment is that you’re increasing your risk of the debilitating effects of heart damage. Remember: the longer you wait, the more likelihood there is of damage to your heart. You don’t want that.

During peri-menopause and menopause, some women will experience heart palpitations. This is due to the changes in oestrogen (so I’m informed by my GP). If this is happening to you PLEASE SEE YOUR DOCTOR. You’re not going to be able to tell if it’s a menopause symptom or a problem that needs further investigation.

Treat all heart pain and/or discomfort seriously.

So why all this talk about heart health?

Many women never realise that they have a heart problem until its well-established.

Breast cancer, on the other hand, has us going all-in. It’s seen as an intruder from outside ourselves and we get geared up for the battle. It’s like our own private Fight Club. And rightly so.

But for better or for worse, when it comes to our heart health we get a little complacent, a little lackadaisical.

Heart disease in women is often described as under-recognised, undertreated and under-researched. It is a leading cause of death in Australian women claiming the lives of almost three times as many women as breast cancer and yet awareness of this is low.

It’s around menopause that the risk of heart disease increases significantly.

In my case, having a mother who had a heart attack around 60 is a risk factor for me. I actually have 3-4 risk factors even though I don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol, eat a mostly vegetarian diet, do a lot of prayer and meditation to counteract mental stress and I walk quite a lot. The risks for me are my mum’s history, menopause (increase in belly fat, less oestrogen and other protective hormones), a propensity to get stressed and high cholesterol (this is a life-long condition).

Like it or not these put me in the danger zone. I can’t do anything at all about the familial aspect and my mum’s dance with the disease. But I can do something about the other risk factors.

Statistics show that 1 in 10 women will eventually die of some kind of heart disease. In contrast, 1 woman in 25 dies from breast cancer.

Women are neglecting to realise the dangers of heart disease. As mentioned above, it is a leading cause of death and disability.

While breast cancer awareness is vitally important, the notion that there is a lower risk for heart disease could and does lead many women to see their hearts as less in need of attention.

A lot of people expect to see physical symptoms of heart disease but that’s not always the case and even if and when symptoms are noticed, they often take the “let’s just wait and see” approach to health care. We’re notoriously unforgiving toward our own health and human being-ness.

Don’t get me wrong, this is definitely not a question of heart vs. breast. 

They are both super important and there’s a lot of common ground between the two. Hell, they’re even in the exact same location.

The positive changes of an active, healthy lifestyle will have a definite impact on both. A lot of heart related risk is reversible or preventable.

Menopause is an important time to take good care of yourself and your heart.

Women who exercise, don’t smoke (or quit), monitor themselves for weight gain, and eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower their risk of heart disease as they age.

Despite all the data that’s readily available, very few of us address an essential component for heart health. This entails healing the emotional heart.

I talk about the emotional heart next week…… in the meantime, make sure you know these numbers. ?

Emergency phones numbers

Australia         000
New Zealand   111
UK                  999
USA                911
Europe            112

References:

https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/

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