By: Veronica Sanchez
I didn't realize that nausea and dizziness were signs of a heart attack in women. When I experienced those symptoms, I thought it was something I ate and just dismissed it. Early the next morning, I woke up feeling an urgency to use the bathroom -- but I couldn't get out of bed.
It was like someone was pushing down on my chest.
Unable to walk, I crawled to the bathroom, then rested on my couch. "The pain in my chest must be bad heartburn," I thought. Then, in a few minutes, my left arm started to feel heavy and I again felt an urgent need to urinate, even though I had just done so.
My husband awoke and urged me to go to the emergency room. At first I protested, arguing that I would see my doctor later that day for my annual physical. But my husband insisted and eventually convinced me.
By the time I arrived at the ER, I was hunched over and my arm felt like it weighed 1,000 pounds. That's when they told me I was having a heart attack.
The news took awhile to register. My idea of heart attack symptoms was like that shown in movies, where the victim complains of chest pain and numbness in the arm.
I didn't think I could be having a heart attack, not realizing at the time that men's and women's heart attack symptoms could differ. I was having symptoms more common for a woman than a man.
Testing showed I had actually had two heart attacks, including one the prior day when I was feeling dizzy and nauseated. I recalled I also had swelling in my ankles and blurred vision a couple weeks earlier. Little did I know that those were signs that my heart was straining, also my blood pressure had increased and I had poor circulation.
I had several blockages and required a triple heart bypass. The whole thing left me perplexed because I couldn't figure out how I'd gotten to that point in my health.
During three months in cardiac rehab, I learned more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle and about the role that family history can play. Until my heart attack prompted me to ask questions, I hadn't realized that I had a strong history of heart disease on both sides of the family.
My doctor told me it wasn't a question of if I'd have a heart attack but when.
And although I tried to exercise when I could and eat healthy, I learned there was much more I could do for my health.
As women, we tend to put everything else first. Sometimes it takes our bodies having to go through a major health event to get our attention.
After my heart attack, I got my whole family-- including my four grown children and their families--involved in making healthy changes to their lifestyle. Family favorites that were fried are now baked.
Even tacos have gotten a makeover.
We use lettuce leaves instead of a crispy corn tortilla, so you still have that crunch without having something fried.
Having my heart attacks changed my perspective on how I handled my health. Now I encourage women to make their health a priority. We wear the red dress as a symbol for Go Red and our heart, but we need to love the woman inside the dress and put our health first so we can continue to be there for our families.
You have to really listen to the signs that your body is sending to you. This taught me to be more aware and not dismissive of things that were happening. Being aware may just save your life.
It's time to take charge of your corazón. Join the Go Red For Women movement for yourself and for your family. Making the decision today could save a life mañana.
Veronica Sanchez is a national spokesperson for the American Heart Association's Go Red For Women movement.