Are you at risk for a heart attack?

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Joan Lunden

Health /

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February is American Heart Month!

I remember being out with my mom one day when I was in my 20s and my mom was in her 50s, and we had stopped to have our hair done.  The owner of the salon came over to me and whispered “your mom is not feeling well and she’s in my office.  I think it could be serious, I think she should go to the hospital.  She’s making light of it and says the two of you have other errands to run this afternoon.”  This was a typical mommy response, but fortunately several other women in the salon overheard and insisted my mom go to the hospital.  It was a good thing we did, because she was in fact having a heart attack.  Thanks to those other women she got the help she needed and she was OK.  Mom then had another similar Incident a few years later.  Now I am happy to report that I just hosted a 93rd birthday party for my mom, still known by her friends as Glitzy Glady.  So, a heart attack does not mean a death sentence… however not getting medical attention certainly can be one. 

Unfortunately my mom's reluctance to seek medical attention is very typical of most women in general.  A survey by the American Heart Association asked women what they would do if they saw someone having the signs of a heart attack.  Over 90% said they would drop whatever they were doing and call 911 to get the person the help they needed.  However when asked what they would do if they themselves were experiencing those same symptoms, LESS THAN HALF said they would go to the hospital.  Why?  Most every woman answered that they needed to take care of their child, pick kids up from school or get to the store so they could cook dinner.

Wait a minute, we are talking about saving your own life!  Why don’t women go for help?   I’m sure that it is partly because the symptoms of a heart attack for a woman aren't as well-defined as that stabbing pressure in the chest that most men experience.  For this reason many women are far more likely to ignore those symptoms and not seek help until it’s too late.

So what are the symptoms? 

You may suffer chest discomfort that last more than a few minutes or that goes away and then comes back.  It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing or pain.  Or it may be much more subtle pain in your upper body – symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.  You might also experience a shortness of breath (with or without chest discomfort) or nausea that comes on quickly or break out in a sweat.  However if you are having a heart attack, the faster you can get to the hospital, the less damage will happen to your heart.  Every second counts.

I think that this is a major health issue for women not only because so many women don’t know the symptoms or ignore them, but also because our approach to life is to put everyone else in our life ahead of ourselves.   We would never consider not getting proper medical treatment for one of our children if they were ill.   However many women actually look at taking time to tend to themselves, as a selfish act.  But it's the opposite really.  Taking care of our health is the greatest gift we could give to our loved ones.  

Remember, more women die from heart attacks than men for one simple reason, and that’s BECAUSE women don't go for help.  We need to change the way we think and react, and we need to listen to our bodies and get medical attention fast enough to save our life.

It all begins with understanding our risks and taking them seriously.  In order to truly understand your personal risk of having a heart attack, you need to know your family health history.  And you must share that information with your personal physician.  It’s crucial that you and your doctor understand your family history in order to take the proper preventative measures and protect your health. 


Heart health

If you don’t know your family history, then make a promise to yourself today, that you will talk to your family and find out the details of your family medical history.

Here’s what you need to know to find out if you are at risk:  Do you have a father or brother who had heart disease before age 55, or a mother or sister who had heart disease before age 65.   Those are the factors that contribute to being at risk for heart disease, along with smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and of course your age.

We all want to live long healthy lives, and there is a lot that we can do to insure that.  Eating right, exercising and making good lifestyle choices (no smoking, drinking, drugs, and keeping stress in check), but knowing our family history can sometimes be the most crucial piece of information in knowing if we are at risk for a heart attack. 

You can learn more about safeguarding your heart health at 

Categories: Family, Health
About The Author
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Joan Lunden truly exemplifies today’s modern working woman. An award-winning journalist, bestselling author, motivational speaker, successful entrepreneur, one of America’s most recognized and trusted television personalities, this mom of seven continues to do it all. As host of Good Morning America for nearly two decades, Lunden brought insight to top issues for millions of Americans each day. The longest running host ever on early morning television, Lunden reported from 26 countries, covered 4 presidents and 5 Olympics and kept Americans up to date on how to care for their homes, their families and themselves.

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