Not So Faint of Heart, Really
The average woman falls in love between two to seven times in a lifetime, not including the amount of times she might spend watching The Notebook with friends and lamenting the loss of "true love" or lifelong friendship. We nurture these feelings because a broken heart feels fragile and vulnerable, and incapable of repair, until time passes, and we meet the next suitor who might help us heal.
Indeed, whether in nursing, or in life, women may believe a woman's heart is tender and vulnerable to heartbreak, while at the same time capable of boundless capacity for love and tenderness. We often forget the physiology of our hearts, until Heart Month rolls around, and we receive a few reminders.
A woman's heart may be capable of a life and love we desire, but heart disease IS a risk we need to recognize.
In fact, heart disease remains the #1 killer of women. In parts of the country, cancer has begun to creep up to overtake heart disease as the overall killer of men and women, but unfortunately, women don't know that. Only 1 in 5 women believe that heart disease is the #1 threat.
Ultimately, women don't know enough about heart disease in general. When they DO experience a cardiac event, they may not recognize the symptoms. They could have shortness of breath, overwhelming fatigue, flu-like symptoms, or heartburn. They may delay seeking medical assistance, which adds to the problem. Thus, more women than men are likely to experience sequelae following their first heart attack OR not survive the event at all! Women need to know this. They may have spouses that have survived 3-4-5 heart "attacks" or cardiac procedures and still appear functional, but that is rarely the case with women. As we saw recently with actress Carrie Fisher, the first event may be the only event that occurs, whether a lethal arrhythmia, or another type of underlying cardiac condition.
So, whether you are falling in love this month, experiencing a break-up, or just watching old re-runs of The Notebook, think about and talk about a woman's heart. Keep the conversation flowing. Wear Red all month if you missed National Wear Red Day on Friday, February 3rd, 2017, or visit their web page (honor.americanheart.org) for other fun activities to raise awareness. Keep the conversation going all year long!
What's especially important is to discuss heart disease and women, including the fact that ethnicity treats women differently. African-American women are disproportionately higher risk for stroke and heart disease than Caucasians, and Hispanic women, while highly active at caring for family members (38% more so than other races), are much less stringent about caring for themselves, and thus are high risk themselves.
And as nurses, we may be the same. We work hard, care hard, and love hard but we don't always put ourselves first. Let's place our hearts on the priority list for a check-up. Don't be another women's statistic.