By Bertha Hidalgo
This past December, I ended up in the emergency room because the entire left side of my body was tingly and numb.
When I say only the left side, I mean, only the left side -- as in only the left side of my tongue, and not the right side, was tingly and felt numb.
I was so frightened. My husband was at work, so he rushed home and off we went to the ER. It turns out, I was not having a stroke, but rather something they called a “complicated migraine.”
As a cardiovascular disease researcher, I am acutely aware of signs and symptoms for a myriad of health events -- strokes and heart attacks included. I was certain I was having a stroke, however, I was also grateful that I was wrong in my own case.
As multi-hyphenate women, we are often tasked with a plethora of responsibilities in life. I, too, spend my days wearing multiple hats: mom; wife; university professor; sports mom; child chauffer; house cleaner; cook; teacher.
I mean, you name it, I probably do it, and so do many other women out there. Something’s got to give, right?
Guess what that one thing often is? It’s self-care and our own health. As women, we are often so busy taking care of everyone else that we forget to take care of ourselves. We forget to eat healthy. Sometimes we forget to eat together. We stop working out because we don’t have time. We ignore the headache that’s been nagging for the past two weeks. We ignore the fatigue, nausea, tightness of chest, slurred speech. We ignore symptoms for serious diseases like heart attacks and strokes, because we are too busy. Too busy to stop and realize that something is not right.
Flight attendants instruct passengers to “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” Right? Why not apply that same approach in life? To help others – including our families – we must first take care of ourselves. Part of excelling in self-care includes being self-aware. To be self-aware, one must educate oneself.
Did you know that certain unique sex-specific risk factors such as early onset of menopause, inflammatory diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and complications of pregnancy, such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, are associated with an increased risk for heart disease? Did you know that more women than men suffer from Type-2 diabetes, physical inactivity, depression and hypertension -- all risk factors for heart disease? Did you also know that the risk for heart disease is also greater for some races and ethnicities?
For example, black and Hispanic women are at greater risk for heart disease than white women.
Did you also know that medical care for heart disease is also different for women than it is for men? Women are more likely to get lower quality care than men after having a heart attack.
However, if a woman gets the same quality care as a man, she is just as likely to survive as her male counterpart. This means as women, we need to: Educate ourselves and understand what puts us at risk for diseases like heart disease; take eaction; exercise; eat healthy; visit the primary care physician on a regular basis; advocate for oneself; demand the best care, the best medications -- you get the picture.
Be a little selfish. Take care of ourselves first so we can take care of everyone and everything else.
While in the ER, I wondered whether I was going to be able to enjoy Christmas with my family. My first thought was, “Well, better me than my children.”
But the possibility that I would not be around to see them grow up or that I would live a life impaired by a stroke or heart disease broke my heart. Instead, for me, it turned out to be a migraine, brought on by months of intense work, life and stress. I didn’t stop to listen to my body, so my body signaled to me that it was time to stop and take a pause to allow it the chance to repair and re-energize.
That event put things into perspective for me. I realized that I have control over certain things that can help reduce my risk for heart disease and so do you. We can control the foods we eat, the amount we exercise. We can learn our family history and get regular check ups. If you already have heart disease, make sure you are taking your medications and taking them appropriately.
These simple life changes can indeed be lifesaving. According to the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women movement, cardiovascular diseases kill are the cause of death in nearly one of three women each year, killing approximately one woman every 80 seconds. Fortunately, we can change that because 80 percent of cardiac and stroke events can be prevented with education and action.
If we each do our part to practice a little more self-care, we will each be doing our part to battle heart disease. Let’s do this for ourselves and also for those we love.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women in recognition of National Wear Red Day (Feb. 3, 2017). The aim is to raise awareness that heart disease isn’t just a man’s disease, and 1 in 3 women died of cardiovascular disease. Eighty percent of cardiac and stroke events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes. To read all the stories in the series, visit http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/heart-disease/. To follow the conversation on Twitter — and share a picture of yourself wearing red — find the hashtag #GoRedWearRed.