By Pam Goorsky
“You are one lucky woman,” my cardiologist said as he turned the computer screen toward me, showing the angiographic image of my heart. “You have about a 99.9% blockage of your left anterior descending coronary artery.”
What? Me? Was he kidding? All I had was a little funny feeling in my throat, and now he was telling me I had a type of blockage known as the “widow maker” because of its close association with sudden death. Only in my case, it would have left a widower, had I not paid attention to a very subtle symptom.
I first noticed the funny feeling in the fall. Every morning, I take my dog for an early morning walk. As the autumn mornings got cooler, I began noticing a strange feeling in my throat when we were walking, something like the “brain freeze” you get when you drink a Slurpee® too fast, only it was in my throat, not my head. As the weeks passed, and the mornings got even colder, this funny feeling occurred during every morning walk. It would dissipate as soon as I entered the warm house. That was the only time I felt it. I ran around Christmas shopping, ran up and down the stairs a hundred times putting away the Christmas décor, and continued with my busy life….no funny throat feeing…except on those cold winter mornings. Time to check this out with a doc.
Working for many years at the American College of Chest Physicians, editing the CHEST journal and other pulmonary material, I, of course, had already diagnosed myself with cold-weather–induced asthma. Yep, I was quite sure that was what I had. “Nope,” said my primary care physician. “Your spirometry results are normal, lung sounds are normal. It isn’t respiratory, so you probably should have a stress test sometime down the road. It could be something cardiac.”
So I had a stress test, and that’s when my world started to cave in. The stress test showed some type of abnormality, an angiogram was ordered a week later, and I’ve already told you the results of that.
After my cardiologist basically told me I was lucky to be alive, he took my hand and gently told me I needed immediate bypass surgery. OMG! He said that women can have symptoms that are very different from the crushing chest pain usually associated with heart attack. He was so glad that I had checked out that funny throat feeling, which, it turns out, was cold-weather–induced angina. I, too, was glad, but I was also mad at myself for having waited so long and taking chances with my life.
Let me be clear: I had no other symptoms. I had normal cholesterol levels my whole life. I hadn’t smoked in 30 years. I usually used one sick day a year. A heart problem was the farthest thing from my mind.
According to the American Heart Association, almost 800,000 Americans die each year of cardiovascular disease. The CDC reports that about 47% of sudden cardiac deaths occur outside a hospital, suggesting that many people with heart disease don’t act on early warning signs.
Women, in particular, tend to ignore heart-related symptoms because they don’t recognize them as such and because they think of heart disease as a men’s issue. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Heart disease is the number-one cause of death among women, killing more women than all cancers combined.
February is American Heart Month, and February 1 is National Wear Red Day, dedicated to spreading the word about women and heart disease. It is also almost 4 years to the day that they wheeled me in for coronary artery bypass surgery. It sure was a wake-up call.
Don’t ignore your body’s signals that something isn’t right. You may think it’s just a passing quirk, but please believe me—if it can happen to me, it can happen to you.
Pam Goorsky is the Manager of Editorial Resources at the American College of Chest Physicians. She has been with the College for more than 25 years, working as a medical/scientific writer and copy editor. In her free time, Pam assists in training therapy dogs and has worked as a team with her own therapy dog, visiting and interacting with the elderly and with troubled youth. Pam participates in a regular exercise program, follows a heart-healthy diet, has regular physical exams, and tells her “heart story” in hopes of alerting people, particularly women, to pay more attention when something “just doesn’t feel right.”
During the holidays I often feel like Charlie Brown when he says, “I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”
Of course I am not alone in this. Charles Schultz would not have made a joke of the holiday blues way back in 1965 if it weren’t a common phenomenon. And since then, the holidays have just gotten crazier, busier, and more jam-packed. The fact is, despite images of comfort and joy that surround us during December, many people, like Charlie Brown, “always end up feeling depressed.” And despite the promises of peace and goodwill, it’s easy to see how almost everyone ends up feeling stressed out.
This can be especially troublesome for people with lung conditions like asthma and COPD, which can be exacerbated by stress. So what can be done to de-stress, and maybe actually enjoy, the holidays?
When I started researching the question, I found some very good advice:
Keep expectations in check. Fond memories of childhood holidays plus all the media images of “perfect” homes and families can create unattainable expectations, often subconsciously. Analyze and challenge those expectations.
Remember to HALT: Don’t let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Get plenty of sleep and exercise. And keep in mind that alcohol is a depressant: Don’t overindulge.
Find something that works for you to help you relax. For people with asthma or COPD, feeling stressed can make breathlessness much worse. The CHEST Foundation’s Living Well with COPD workbook offers these suggestions:
- Try yoga, prayer, meditation, or listening to relaxing music.
- Get comfortable, and concentrate on the things that relax you.
- Slowly tense and relax each part of your body. Start with your toes and work all the way up to your scalp. Breathe in as you tighten, and breathe out as you relax.
Limit the amount of time you spend with extended family, and you will probably enjoy them more. Family tensions tend to be heightened during the holidays, when everyone is more tired and hassled than usual. Add travel to the mix and you’re complicating things even more. So try to accept people as they are, and don’t expect them to change because it’s a “magical” time of year. Set aside grievances for later.
If you are prone to loneliness, avoid isolation. If you don’t have family nearby or a close network of friends, try volunteering at a soup kitchen or nursing home. It sounds trite, but it will make you feel better. Consider making a commitment of support to those organizations for the remainder of the year as well.
Enjoy tradition, but be willing to let something go if it’s no longer working for you. Before undertaking a task or accepting an invitation, ask yourself, “Will this really enhance my holidays?”
Banish perfectionism. Refuse to compare your decorations, traditions, talents, possessions, appearance, or credit card balance to anyone else’s.
If you feel seriously stressed or depressed and nothing seems to help, consider turning to a professional for help. And talk to your physician if asthma, COPD, or other lung condition worsens.
For help managing COPD or asthma, check out the Living Well with COPD workbook and Controlling Your Asthma patient education guide, produced by the The CHEST Foundation and the American College of Chest Physicians.
Barbara Granner joined The CHEST Foundation in September 2012 as editorial specialist for The Foundation and its OneBreath initiative.Read More
To many of us, February means Valentine’s Day, a pleasant respite from the dark of winter. The good news is that it is just around the corner! Candy or flowers from somebody you love can make this the best—or at least the sweetest—holiday of the year. However, that may soon be history, according to a friend of mine. With all the talk about healthy eating and avoiding sweets, she’s afraid the best part of Valentine’s Day may be on its way out.
Not so fast, I say, as long as we stay with chocolate candy. There’s an increasing amount of scientific evidence that chocolate is actually good for us. Consider this:
- A new Swedish study of more than 30,000 women followed for 10 years reported that those who ate at least 45 grams of chocolate per week (about two candy bars) had a 20% lower risk of stroke than those who ate less than 9 grams of chocolate per week (Larsson et al. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2011;58(17):1828-1829).
- A review of seven studies found that five of the studies showed an association between higher levels of chocolate consumption and reductions in cardiovascular disease and stroke risk (Buitrago-Lopez et al. BMJ. 2011;343:d4488).
- Several studies, including a 2010 German study of more than 19,000 people followed for more than 8 years, found that the 25% of people who consumed the most chocolate had lower blood pressure and a lower risk of heart attack and stroke (Buijsse et al. Eur Heart J. 2010;31(13):1616-1623).
What is it about chocolate? Cocoa and chocolate are high in polyphenol antioxidants, especially flavanols. These compounds appear to have multiple beneficial actions, which include reducing inflammation, improving vascular health principally by reducing blood clotting, and lowering levels of “bad” cholesterol or low-density lipoprotein (Galleano M et al. J Cardiovasc Pharma. 2009;54:483).
So, you may even help that special person’s health by giving chocolates this year. Stick to dark chocolate (more flavanols) and avoid confections with sugary, gooey centers. If you want to dress it up a bit, choose chocolate with almonds (a good source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids) or some other nut or fruit bark, and your gift will be a real hit. Have a happy, healthy Valentine’s Day!
OneBreath® focuses on nine prevention areas to improve overall health. There are countless technology resources available to help you meet your health goals. Here are a few notable resources:
- Whole Foods Market Recipes App. This free iPhone® app allows you to specify your dietary needs and search by ingredient. Recipes also list nutritional information and cooking instructions.
- Choosemyplate.gov. This site’s SuperTracker gives you personalized nutrition and physical activity plans, tracks your food and physical activities, and provides tips and support to make healthy choices.
- Digifit App. This free iPhone® app is great for tracking workouts. It maps your route; gives you time, distance, and speed; and also tracks your weight, blood pressure, and sleeping habits. The app provides voice feedback, charts your overall workout stats, and allows you to share your fitness routine with friends via Facebook and e-mail. Plus, you can integrate your iTunes® music into your workout.
- LiveStrong’s MyQuit Coach. This free quit smoking app helps with goal setting, gives helpful tips for quitting smoking, lets you track your daily progress and personal motivations for quitting, offers a community of people also working to quit smoking, and provides financial and health data to motivate you to quit. More than 1,000 people have reviewed the app in the app store, and it has received a 4.5 star rating.
- OneBreath®. Resources are available covering all nine prevention areas.
Which technology tools or Web sites do you use for help in meeting your health goals? Be sure to share on OneBreath’s Facebook wall at www.facebook.com/onebreathorg.Read More
Stuck at work? Don’t get stuck at your desk. Studies show that taking simple breaks throughout the day can help improve your mood and health. Here are 10 simple ways you can improve your health and mood during your lunch hour.
1. Take a 30-minute walk. Walking can help decrease your risk for type 2 diabetes, help you manage your weight, and lower your blood pressure. Here are some tips from the Mayo Clinic on how to get started walking for exercise.
2. Check out quick and healthy recipes online for dinner ideas. The Cooking Light magazine Web site offers hundreds of Superfast 20-Minute Cooking Recipes.
3. Try some simple desk yoga. Ladies’ Home Journal offers 10 poses that will help you relieve stress and keep you alert during your workday.
4. Write down a few things you are thankful for. The Change Blog’s article titled, “How Gratitude Can Change Your Life” explains the benefits of recognizing and recording gratitude.
5. Call a friend for a quick chat.
6. Register yourself for a weekend dance, yoga, or fitness class.
7. Get inspired by checking out a TED talk on a topic of interest.
8. Drink a glass of water. WebMD outlines six reasons to stay hydrated.
9. Listen to your favorite music at your desk on Spotify for free.
10. Check out the OneBreath® Healthy Resolutions contest.
What suggestions do you have for mood lifters during lunch? How do you keep yourself moving at work? Share your ideas at facebook.com/onebreathorg.Read More
Making small changes to your eating habits help you meet your healthy resolutions. Here are four quick and easy ways to incorporate healthy eating into your lifestyle.
Eat fish. Research continues to show that people who eat fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, cod, and albacore tuna, have a lower risk for developing heart disease. Results of this recent study offer even more support. Add fish to your diet at least two times a week for a positive impact on your heart health.
Choose healthy foods when eating out. Choosemyplate.gov gives excellent tips on how to select healthy foods when eating away from home. You don’t have to give up dining out, but making healthier choices can trim your waistline and improve your overall health.
Plan your meals ahead. Planning ahead before you go to the grocery store will help you choose healthier options, such as fruits and vegetables; avoid junk food temptations; and even save you money. Check out these links for more information on meal planning:
- My Pyramid Meal Planner http://www.mypyramidtracker.gov/planner/
- How to save time and money at the grocery store http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=11628
- How to plan and prepare healthy and inexpensive family dinners http://www.ehow.com/way_5283311_healthy-inexpensive-family-dinners.html
Snack smart. Keep healthy snacks at your desk, such as almonds, low-fat cheese, whole-grain crackers, or carrot sticks and hummus. Having healthy snacks handy when a mid-afternoon lull sets in will make you less likely to reach for the candy dish.
Are you making any small changes in your eating and cooking habits to help you meet your new year’s healthy resolution? Share your ideas at facebook.com/onebreathorg.Read More