New podcast Ticker Tapes, from the British Heart Foundation, talks openly about how heart disease affects women. Here, three women from the podcast talk about how heart attacks changed their lives…
Carol Ighofose is a GP living in Leicester. She had a heart attack at the age of 48.
‘I was initially deemed to be ‘dramatic’ when I told paramedics I thought I was having a heart attack – but I was right! In January 2018, I was driving home from work and started to get chest and stomach discomfort, which I thought was from indigestion. I was on the phone to a colleague, using hand-free, and mentioned that my chest discomfort was getting worse.
I decided to pull the car over and my colleague rang 999. The pain worsened and I became disorientated and feared I was dying. Once the paramedics arrived, I told them I thought I was having a heart attack, to which one of the paramedics replied ‘Oh you doctors, you always think the worst!’
I wanted to lower the car window so I could get some fresh air and I couldn’t work out how to do it; I was just so confused. Then I managed to do it. I looked out and I saw people walking by and I thought, “Oh my god, I’m having a heart attack.” I knew I could die. I thought how sad it would be to die alone. I put my hand through the window and waved, hoping somebody would come and just sit with me.
I was taken to hospital and it took a while for doctors to recognise I really was having a heart attack. I couldn’t’ stop crying, knowing my heart was being damaged with every minute that passed without treatment. And I was right; the damage caused was so severe it left me with heart failure.
I’m now back at work part time but don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back full time due to the damage to my heart. I have an incredibly strong faith though, which has comforted me throughout my illness and, I believe, aided recovery. And despite it all, I believe I’m exactly where I’m meant to be right now.’
Esther Stanhope, a motivational speaker from London, was 45 when she had her heart attack
‘Despite having felt unwell for weeks, I had continued to work and look after my two children. I was in New York on a business trip and, while not working, when with my sister-in-law to a cross-fit class. Literally within three minutes I was feeling dizzy and sweating, I couldn’t breathe easily. It was humid so I assumed that was causing my unwell feelings. I thought I’d walk it off. It felt like the start of a panic attack more than anything. There was definitely a strange feeling in my left arm but I didn’t take it all seriously.
My dad had died of a heart attack and yet I couldn’t comprehend that the chest pains, nausea and exhaustion I was experiencing could possibly be because of a heart attack. Rather than going to a health clinic when my pain worsened, I got back on a flight to London.
Once the plane touched down, I went to my GP who sent me straight to hospital, suspecting a heart attack. I had indeed had a heart attack and needed a stent fitted to open my blocked artery! I never thought what happened to Dad could happen to me, partly because I am a woman, I am relatively healthy, and I don’t eat loads of fatty foods.
Then during my stay in hospital, I also suffered a stroke. I recovered well and am now back working but am very mindful of not overdoing it, concentrating on my children instead and saying no to a lot of things that come up, rather than filling my schedule. Now, I’m keen to raise awareness of heart attacks in women as not enough women realise the symptoms.’
Zena Jones, now retired and living in Newcastle, had a heart attack at age 61.
‘In April 2016, I suffered a stroke whilst on a weekend away in Durham, which doctors said was likely caused by Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH) – an inherited condition causing abnormally high cholesterol, which puts you at higher risk of heart and circulatory disease. The FH was passed on from my mother, who lived with angina from the age of 50.
After the stroke, I lost my job as well as my self-confidence and was emotionally distraught. I also lost a lot of weight, which I found difficult to deal with. With every kilo lost I felt like I was losing part of my personality and confidence.
I had previously been a size 22 and felt gorgeous – I could walk into any room and deal with it. Now at a size 12, or 10, I’m the one hiding behind the door. It’s alien to me. My brain hasn’t caught up with my body; with the vision it sees in the mirror.
But worse was to come. In June 2017, I suffered a heart attack on holiday. While on the phone to the 999 operator, I told them I had an overwhelming sense of impending doom and tightness across my throat. Doctors found that all three of my major arteries were blocked and I had to have a stent inserted into the one that was 90 per cent blocked. The other two are still being medically treated.
I’ve had a lot to come to terms with and to help me, I now write poetry and talk openly about the mental health side effects from the conditions. My mantra now is: “I cannot change my past but I can control my future”. At no time have I ever gone back and thought I wish I had done something different or thought if only, or why me. I’d rather put my negative energy into something positive. That was then and this is now.’
Did you know…
- As a woman, you’re twice as likely to die from heart disease than breast cancer.
- Women are 50 per cent more likely to be given a wrong initial diagnosis following a heart attack.
- 8,200 women in England and Wales who died following a heart attack, could have survived if they’d received the same quality of treatment as men.
- 800,000 women in the UK living with Coronary heart disease, which is the main cause of heart attacks.
- On average, 98 women per day are admitted to hospital with a heart attack.
Symptoms of a heart attack in women
These can vary from person to person but the most common signs, as stated on the BHF website, are:
- Chest pain or discomfort in your chest that suddenly occurs and doesn’t go away. It may feel like pressure, tightness or squeezing.
- The pain may spread to your left or right arm or may spread to your neck, jaw, back or stomach.
- You may also feel sick, sweaty, light-headed or short of breath.
Other less common symptoms include:
- A sudden feeling of anxiety that can feel similar to a panic attack.
- Excessive coughing or wheezing.