This article is written by WomenHeart, one of our health advocacy partners.
Despite experiencing all the warning signs of a heart attack, Susan Smith still didn’t go to the emergency room or call 911. She was too busy. She self-diagnosed her discomfort as an anxiety attack and neglected getting care. Eventually she had no choice; her heart attack sent her to the hospital where she had two stents put in that saved her life. She’s now a volunteer with WomenHeart, actively educating women in her community about heart disease so no one has to experiences a close call like she did.
WomenHeart has spent over twenty years educating women about the signs and symptoms of heart disease and empowering them to advocate for themselves. That’s why it has been especially heart-breaking this past year to see, not only hundreds of thousands of deaths due to COVID-19, but to see so many people delay care, wait too long to call 911 and suffer worse outcomes from heart disease because they’re afraid to go to the hospital or doctor’s office.
This fear was not unfounded. Especially in the early days of the pandemic, there was so much unknown about the novel coronavirus and hospitals were canceling appointments and delaying elective procedures. Hospitals in different parts of the country have, at times, been overrun with patients and ICUs have too often been at or beyond capacity.
But we know so much more today; and health care providers have gone to great lengths to make things safe for patients who come in for care. Further, telemedicine has become much more accessible, enabling patients to keep in touch with their health care providers, stay on top of their prescriptions and manage their conditions. In short – it’s time for women living with or at risk of heart disease to return to care.
There are two key messages we want women to hear:
Call 911 if you think you’re having a heart attack
Know the signs and symptoms of heart attacks in women, which can be different from men. Common symptoms include chest pain or pressure in your chest, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea or unexplained feelings of fatigue or weakness – especially with exertion.
Take control of your heart health
Make and keep your appointments; track your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and more. Don’t delay. Particularly in the midst of a pandemic, it’s important to maintain heart health and to manage any pre-existing conditions.
Finally, for women who have experienced a heart event or been diagnosed with heart disease – especially during the last year when we’ve been physically distancing – it’s important to know they’re not alone. WomenHeart has maintained and strengthened its peer-to-peer support services throughout this time.
WomenHeart Champions like Susan – women with heart disease who have been trained to provide support and education – have transitioned their Support Networks to virtual meetings so women with heart disease can continue to support and educate one another in a group setting. We have launched an app for our SisterMatch program, which pairs women with Big Sisters who can provide one-on-one support and answer questions for those who may be new on their heart journey.
This past year has challenged us in ways we could have never imagined. But it’s also emphasized how important it is to take care of our health. Heart disease is the number one killer of women. We want women to be knowledgeable and empowered to seek the care they need so they can thrive, even during a pandemic.
WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease is a patient-centered organization focused on serving the millions of women living with or at risk of heart disease – the leading cause of death in women. WomenHeart is dedicated to advancing women’s heart health through advocacy, community education and the nation’s only patient support network for women living with heart disease. WomenHeart is a community of thousands nationwide, including women heart patients and their families, clinicians and health advocates, all committed to helping women live longer, healthier lives.
Outcome Health partners with organizations like WomenHeart to bring their important messages to audiences at the point of care. If you’d like to learn more about joining our network, email firstname.lastname@example.org.