My friend, Sue Aquila, a triathlete and coach at Endurance Corner, wrote the other day to share a story about Cheryl, another of her triathlete/swimmer friends….one with an interesting story about swimming a PR while having a heart attack!
Cheryl was kind enough to share her story here. I’ll add a few thoughts at the end.
In Cheryl’s words….
I shared my story at the W3 reunion two weeks ago, and am sharing it here as my public service announcement.
I am a 46 year old white female. I have never smoked. I exercise every day; some days twice a day. I eat a healthy diet (not a perfect one, but a decent one). For years, my cholesterol hovered around 200, no matter how I changed my diet. I have no family history of heart disease.
I was a competitive swimmer from age 5 through college. Then I slowly took up triathlon. I have always been very physically active.
- Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, and is more deadly than all forms of cancer combined?
- Heart disease causes 1 in 3 women’s deaths each year, killing approximately 1 woman every minute?
- An estimated 43 million women in the U.S. are affected by heart disease?
- Ninety percent of women have 1 or more risk factors for developing heart disease?
- Since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease?
- The symptoms of heart disease can be different in women and men, and are often misunderstood?
- While 1 in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, 1 in 3 dies of heart disease?
- Only 1 in 5 American women believe that heart disease is her greatest health threat?
- Women comprise only 24% of participants in all heart-related studies?
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs, such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
- As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
Don’t assume, like I did, that because you are an athlete, that it couldn’t possibly be a heart attack. Every minute that some of your heart is deprived of oxygen, heart muscle cells are dying. Get your cholesterol and blood pressure checked regularly, and keep the numbers in the good range. Be wise about your health. Be smart about your heart.
We often think of heart attack as a man’s problem. It’s important to remember that women also have heart attacks and their symptoms may not be “classic.”
It sounds like Cheryl’s story has a good ending….she was eventually diagnosed and treated for her coronary artery disease. Good endings often depend upon prompt action, though. Don’t delay. If you have any concern about the possibility of a heart attack, seek medical attention promptly….and certainly don’t wait to finish the swim meet!
The American Heart Association has a wide variety of helpful educational offerings about heart attack, coronary artery disease, and many other topics. Check out the AHA website especially for their Life’s Simple 7 program that guides individuals in 7 easy, concrete steps to safeguard their heart health.