Silent Risk: Women and Heart Disease
Heart disease kills half a million American women each year. So why are women more afraid of breast cancer?
Mental Health and the Heart continued...
Kathy Kastan was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder
following heart bypass surgery. (This condition is a form of anxiety brought on
by a traumatic or life-threatening event.)
In spite of being a psychotherapist herself, the 44-year-old
wife and mother didn't recognize the signs of the condition until the second
year after her surgery. "The first year I was in shock," she says.
"When you go through trauma like that, you stay numb." She relates the
trauma to the surgery itself, pain and humiliation caused by a nurse, and
continued poor health after the surgery. "I worked through it, but these
experiences change your life."
Missing the Diagnosis
Many women with heart disease say they were misdiagnosed in the
early stages. In the survey, only 35% of the women and 68% of their doctors
associated their symptoms with heart problems. Yet most of the women surveyed
had typical cardiac symptoms, such as chest pain and arm pain or pressure, or
shortness of breath. Others reported dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and back pain,
which are less common symptoms.
Kastan was a 41-year-old non-smoker and a trim athlete when she
began experiencing shortness of breath. She attributed it to asthma, which can
be brought on by exercise. But it kept getting worse. On one bike ride, the
symptoms became severe. Kastan's husband, a physician, said he doubted she had
heart disease, nevertheless suggested she see a cardiologist. The cardiologist
proclaimed her healthy. The very next week she collapsed in the mountains.
"This time I had classic Hollywood heart attack symptoms with chest pain
radiating up into my jaw and down my arm, shortness of breath, pasty pale skin
and nausea," she says.
She immediately went to a second cardiologist. "He said to
go home and exercise and we'll see what happens. The minute I started running I
collapsed again." She finally had the cardiologist put her on the treadmill
and raise the level of exertion. "Then he was the one who turned pasty
pale. He said I had a blockage" in the arteries. The doctor quickly
confirmed his suspicion by inserting a catheter to look into her arteries.