Dangers & Signs of Heart Disease

January 31, 2018

Lee Ann Collins had chest pain for years. She had acid reflux, and she didn’t think much of it.

This past summer, she did a lot of walking and would feel a pain in her right shoulder and down her arm. She thought it was a pinched nerve.  

When she vacuumed at home, she would have pain between her shoulder blades and down her back. Wrapping gifts at Christmas hurt her back, too.  Some mornings, she would wake up with a sore spot in her back before she even did anything.

She finally decided to call her doctor. Being from DuBois, she was sent directly to the Emergency Department at Penn Highlands DuBois. While there, she was having pain down her arm, across her back and that pesky “heart burn.”

“I was thinking it was acid reflux,” Collins said. “I was in denial. It can’t be a heart attack.”

From the Emergency Department, Collins was kept for observation and testing the next morning.  She was given a stress test and afterward told that the test showed there was an issue with her heart while exercising.  The next step was the heart Catheterization Lab at The Heart Center at PH DuBois.

Heart disease is the number one killer of women, according to the American Heart Association. “It causes one in three deaths each year. That’s approximately one woman every minute!” according to Annette Agosti, RN, director of the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit at The Heart Center of PH DuBois.

But it doesn’t affect all women alike, and the warning signs for women aren’t the same in men. And in some cases, women will misunderstand their signs and blame other causes. 

“I should have come to the Emergency Department sooner,” Collins said. “I should have listened to my husband.” He was concerned the whole time, but, she said, “I had too much to do and I always thought it was my acid reflux.” She would tell him, “I’ll go to the doctor on Monday.”

Collins attributed the pains to other things – getting older, doing too much or other reasons. Past stress tests and EKGs showed nothing. 

“We are all different,” Collins learned. In her case, she has microvascular angina – a type of chest pain and sign of a microvascular disease. Spasms within the walls of her small blood vessels cause reduced blood flow to the heart. 

Though she didn’t have a heart attack, heart disease can lead to heart attacks or heart failure. 

What are the risk factors for heart disease? According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, they are: 

  • High blood cholesterol;
  • Diabetes and prediabetes;
  • Smoking;
  • Being overweight or obese;
  • Being physically inactive; 
  • Having a family history of early heart disease; 
  • Having a history of preeclampsia during pregnancy;
  • An unhealthy diet;
  • Age.

Some risk factors, such as age and family history of early heart disease, can't be changed.

Hearing the diagnosis, she said she felt numb and was shaken by it.  Collins had been active, attentive to her health and eating healthy.  Having a family history of heart problems in her family, she knew it was in her genes, but was trying to do things to prevent it. 

Today, she takes her medications and is feeling much better. Collins attends Cardiac Rehabilitation at PH DuBois. Cardiac Rehab is available at all four Penn Highlands hospitals. In rehab, she exercises under the watchful eyes of nurses, and she learns about staying healthy.

Collins feels lucky that her situation wasn’t worse. “You have to be aware of the signs,” she said. “If you have them – especially if you may have a family history – go to the Emergency Department.”

To mark the need for more women to be aware of heart disease, Penn Highlands Healthcare is celebrating Go Red For Women on Friday, Feb. 2.  Everyone is invited to wear red as a reminder to take heart health seriously – no matter what your gender. And if you want to share your photos on Facebook, tag or share with Penn Highlands Healthcare.

Though February is American Heart Month, heart disease is a year round concern. For those who have heart disease or their friends or families members, join the Cardiac Support Group hosted by The Heart Center. Meetings are held from 2:30-3:30 p.m. every second Tuesday of the month in the Fugate Room on the second floor of PH DuBois West.

The 2018 schedule and topics are: Feb. 13, Dietary Supplements; March 13, Stroke Prevention; April 10, Peripheral Artery Disease; May 8, Stress Reduction; June 12, Medication Review; July 10, Smart Shopping; Aug. 14, Information from the Internet; Sept. 11, Exercise and Heart Health; Oct. 9, Being in Charge of Your Health; Nov. 13, Smart Holiday Choices; and Dec. 11, Questions and Answers.

It’s free to attend, and while there is an expert speaker, discussion and conversation are welcome. 

For more information about the group, contact Agosti at 814-375-7706.