We'll get right to the heart of the matter: Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women. Yet many women — and many health care providers — still lack information and awareness about the condition. That leads some women to ignore potentially life-threatening cardiac symptoms. And it leads some providers to misdiagnose them.
That's something Dina Piersawl knows firsthand. Dina, a chemist who ran track in college, was spending Christmas Eve with her parents when her mother noted something "funny" about the way Dina's eyes looked, Dina writes on Health.com. She had also had a headache for a few days, and her mother "could tell something was off."
By the time Dina returned to Chicago, the headache had worsened and been joined by "a heaviness in my chest, as though a football player was standing on top of me," she writes. A trip to the emergency department offered no relief. "The staff working the holiday shift found my blood pressure was elevated but chalked it up to 'holiday stress' and sent me home," she writes. Her symptoms persisted. And so did Dina, who went back to the emergency room two days later. This time, tests revealed that Dina — just 41 and in what she thought was good health — had experienced a stroke, "a direct result," she writes, "of undiagnosed hypertension."
Dina says she was "blown away." She also was determined to help other women avoid a similar experience. So she became a trained advocate for WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease. The organization, founded by three women who survived heart attacks in their 40s, focuses on the early detection, accurate diagnosis and proper treatment of heart disease in women. Dina and nearly 800 other women have completed training at the WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium at Mayo Clinic to prepare for their roles as advocates.
"There is no question in my mind that if I were a man, no doctor would have told me that my symptoms were due to 'holiday stress' and sent me home," Dina writes. "It's disappointing, but not shocking, that men are more likely to be diagnosed with heart disease but women still make up the majority of its fatalities. My determination to return to the hospital to get better care saved my life."
The next WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium will take place Oct. 6–9, 2017, at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus. The program is open to women who have heart disease and would like to help others with the condition. Information on WomenHeart, including application details, can be found here. And for more on WomenHeart, watch this video featuring Mayo Clinic cardiologist (and WomenHeart board member) Sharonne Hayes, M.D.
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