My dad and mom in happier days.
By Russell W. Peterson | DayParentDad.com | 20 August 14

Today my mother would have turned 85. She was full of life. She loved having fun, helping others, spending time with friends and family, playing cards, toasting good times, and wearing her Ali Baba pants suits. We all thought she'd live past 100. Turns out, she didn't. She died 16 years ago after a short bout of what the doctors thought was the flu. Turns out, it wasn't.

It took me many months after her death to patch together what had happened. It is now clear that there is a genetic predisposition in her family to heart disease. Many cousins, siblings, uncles, aunts, grandparents and others have suffered with this affliction. Most likely it is caused by Familia Hyperlipidemia or genetic high cholesterol (Hypercholesterolemia) which in turn causes Atherosclerosis or hardening of the coronary arteries which in turn can lead to a heart attack. But it is stealthy and masks itself as other ailments.

We have been so programmed by television and the movies to believe in the Fred Sanford model with hand on heart yelling, "It's the BIG ONE." Well it usually isn't the big one, especially for women. In my mother's case, she had been diagnosed with allergies and asthma for a long time. She popped Sinutabs like they were candy just to get some relief. But nothing really helped. It is beyond sad that she and her doctors spent all that time treating a disease she didn't really have. The shortness of breath and breathing issues were really signs of heart disease. Please don't ignore that last sentence. THE SHORTNESS OF BREATH AND BREATHING ISSUES WERE REALLY SIGNS OF HEART DISEASE.

The Nation Institutes Of Health has a page on the symptoms of Heart Disease. Symptoms for women can be much different than those for men. Here is a list of potential symptoms from various sources:

Some women who have coronary heart disease (CHD) have no symptoms at all. This is called silent CHD. Potential symptoms could include:
  • Angina: dull, heavy, or sharp pain or discomfort in the chest or heart area.
  • Pain in upper abdomen, back, throat, neck, or arms.
  • Fatigue.
  • Shortness of breath or other breathing difficulties such as allergies or asthma.
  • Swelling in legs, ankles, feet, and lower torso.
  • Fluttering feelings.
  • Indigestion, nausea, or vomiting.
  • Heartburn
  • High levels of blood pressure or bad cholesterol.

The Go Red For Women Campaign has a list of potential symptoms to watch for with heart attack in women. Here is a list I've compiled from multiple sources:

Although women can have chest pain during a heart attack, they are more than likely going to have one or more of the following symptoms:
  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, shoulder or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Right arm pain.
  • Nausea or vomiting similar to flu symptoms.
  • Sweating.
  • Unusual fatigue.
  • Unable to walk up stairs, push an object or lift something without losing breath.
  • Heartburn.

It is important to know that stress tests, EKG, and other blood tests may not confirm a heart disease diagnosis. Staying diligent and paying attention, especially if you have a family history or are a smoker or have been around second hand smoke, is vital. Although diet and exercise are important, I have found that diet alone is not enough in most cases to fight heart disease. You must be proactive on all fronts. The number one clinic in heart and vascular health is the Cleveland Clinic. The Mayo Clinic, the number one hospital in the nation, has a great summary for women. Please take a minute to go to these sites and become familiar with the information. Reach out to a doctor who is familiar with heart disease in women if you have concerns.

I imagine that if I had all this information two decades ago, my mother would be sitting across the table from me today. In her Ali Baba pants suit. Laughing and screaming 31. I miss that.