Hey, Girlfriend. If You’re Having a Heart Attack – “Make the Call!”

 A woman suffers a heart attack every minute in the United States. Yet according to a 2009 American Heart Association survey only half of women indicated they would call 9-1-1 if they thought they were having a heart attack even though they were much more likely to call if a loved one had symptoms. To kick off National Heart Month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched a nationwide campaign, Make the Call. Don’t Miss a Beat to educate, engage and empower women and their families to learn the seven most common symptoms of a heart attack and encourage them to call 9-1-1 as soon as those symptoms arise. 

 Why women are more likely to call 9-1-1 when a loved one is having symptoms than when they themselves are is not known.  Some reasons cited included denial, not wanting to be a bother, financial worries, and embarrassment.  Many felt that if they just “dismissed” the symptoms they would go away or if they went to the emergency room, their symptoms would not be taken seriously.  

As a woman living with heart disease I have had every one of these thoughts in the middle of the night when my palpitations felt like a horse was kicking the inside of my chest. One night I took a taxi to the emergency room; another I called a heart “sister” who talked me through the panic until I felt better and one night I call 9-1-1.  Under no circumstance would I try to drive myself to the emergency room, a point the campaign emphasizes as well. 

People ask me how I know.  You know when to call.  It’s common for women to have indigestion (you like spicey food, right?), back pain (you garden, right?), cool sweating (you’re at that age, right?) and fatigue (you work long hours, right?).  But the symptoms of a heart attack, and survivors will tell you this, is simply different.  It feels like nothing you have experienced before.  It catches your attention and won’t let go.  That’s when you make the call. 

 There are several national organizations and initiatives to learn more.  The National Institutes for Health established The Heart Truth, introducing the red dress campaign as the national symbol and is an excellent source of information.  WomenHeart, the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease offers local support groups and national advocacy training.  As a 2005 graduate of their Scientific and Leadership Symposium, I often speak to women about the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and the importance of knowing when your body well enough to detect the difference between every-day mishaps and symptoms that signal something more serious.  

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