By Becky Carter
President/Chief Nursing Officer, Blue Ridge Regional Hospital
Hearts are the theme for February. Aside from Valentine’s Day celebrating romance, February is also National Heart Month. Heart disease remains the No. 1 killer of Americans. We talk a lot about how to lower our risk for heart disease by eating better, avoiding tobacco, exercising more and managing our stress. But we also need to be prepared and able to identify the symptoms of heart disease.
Over the decades that heart disease has been studied, most study participants have been men, and it was previously considered to be a “man’s disease.” This is problematic because women too are impacted by heart disease and they often experience very different heart attack symptoms than men.
According to a 2012 American Heart Association report, nearly two-thirds of women who die suddenly of heart disease experience no warning signs or symptoms of an impending heart attack. This alarming fact alone illustrates the urgency we should all feel about women’s heart health, and emphasize how important it is to establish a direct relationship with a primary care provider. Primary Care physicians manage your care over time, they get to know you and your family and take into consideration your personal risk factors like age, family history and lifestyle practices.
Women are often unaware that they frequently experience different, more subtle heart attack symptoms compared to men. For example, men’s typical symptoms include sudden, sharp chest pain with trouble breathing; although women can experience these symptoms too, they more often complain of back, shoulder and jaw pain, nausea, belching, cold sweats and flu-like symptoms. A woman’s heart attack risk is heightened by almost 50 percent if they also have diabetes. Depression disproportionately affects women and increases heart attack risk as well.
Whatever heart attack symptoms anyone in our community exhibits, it’s imperative that the first move should be to call 911. You will be taken to our emergency department, where we will identify the symptoms as quickly as possible, through means such as an EKG and a blood draw to determine whether there is an active heart attack. If a heart attack is underway, we would start a protocol to get her to Mission Hospital’s Heart Catheterization Lab in Asheville within an hour’s time. If tests do not show an active heart attack, the patient would be stabilized here at BRRH and scheduled for further testing. I’m happy to report that, for a remarkable 13th time, Mission Hospital has earned a place on IBM Watson Health’s list of the 50 Top Cardiovascular Hospitals for 2019, which means BRRH patients have access to some of the best cardiovascular care in the nation.
Fortunately women can focus on factors they can control, like exercising, eating a healthy diet and lowering their stress levels to reduce cardiovascular disease risk, even if they are predisposed to heart disease due to family history. I am personally vigilant about my own heart health, as my mother experienced – and thankfully survived – a heart attack at the young age of 41. She was lucky, because as with most women she continued through her workday, incorrectly thinking that her back and shoulder pain were nothing to worry about. I am so thankful that she survived and it has left an indelible memory and created a passion for me to educate others.
You may be aware that National Wear Red Day for women’s heart health awareness happens on the first Friday in February of each year. This year, I wore red in honor of my mother. Know that we at BRRH are passionate about raising awareness around women’s heart disease, and dedicated to preventing and treating it.
Rebecca W. Carter, MSN, RN, FACHE, is President and Chief Nursing Officer of Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine. Carter has served in senior hospital management for over 20 years and previously served as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Transylvania Regional Hospital in Brevard, also a part of the Mission Health system.
Ms. Carter is board certified in healthcare management and is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE). A native of North Carolina, she holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in nursing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ms. Carter is currently a resident of Burnsville.