Heart attack survivor aims to arm women with education

Heart disease kills six times more women annually than breast cancer does

Heart health advocate Carolyn Thomas arrives early for a workout at Monterey Recreation Centre

Carolyn Thomas wants women to take the adage “Do as I say not as a do” to heart.

A heart attack survivor herself, Thomas leads a lecture, where she shares her experience and knowledge gained from the Women Heart Science and Leadership Symposium at the Mayo Clinic.

In 2008 Thomas had “Hollywood heart attack” symptoms: chest pain, left arm pain, sweats. Her first thought was “I’d better not be having a heart attack. I don’t have time for that.”

It’s not an uncommon response, particularly for women, she said, noting more women than men die of heart disease each year. Heart disease kills six times more women annually than breast cancer does. It kills more women every year than all forms of cancer combined.

Part of the reason is the “treatment seeking delay behaviour” inherent in women, she said.

“Women will put off seeking help,” Thomas said. “Women still think of heart disease as a man’s problem. I certainly did. I pictured an old fat man on a golf course clutching his chest.”

She went to the ER and was sent home diagnosed with acid reflux. She felt embarrassed, but two weeks later was readmitted and a cardiologist confirmed a heart attack. It led her on the path of getting informed on her own health and teaching others to do the same.

Her presentations are described as “part cardiology bootcamp and part stand-up comedy” where she talks about women’s unique cardiac risk factors and how to address them as well as signs and symptoms of a heart attack, including some vague, atypical symptoms common in women.

“You have to pay attention to your heath in general,” Thomas said. “Women’s heart disease is real, but 80 per cent of heart disease they believe is preventable.”

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, smoking, physical inactivity, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity greatly increase your chances of developing heart disease. Most Canadian women have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke). Women who have diabetes, come from certain ethnic backgrounds or are menopausal are even more at risk.

“Seek care for symptoms,” she urged. “I always ask (the participants) ‘What would you do if these symptoms were happening to someone you loved’?”

Thomas’ free seminar this month at the Monterey Recreation Centre is already full with a lengthy wait list. Registration for her next presentation on May 26 opens mid-April.

Monterey provides members with a weekly drop-in blood pressure clinic Thursdays from 11:30 to 1 p.m.

 

cvanreeuwyk@oakbaynews.com