Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Mississippi, among both men and women. But, as MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, women may have different warning signs.
Kearn Cherry of Biloxi says she first learned the symptoms of heart disease can be different for women when she attended an American Heart Association Go Red event in 2007.
Two years later, when she was 44 years old, she realized one evening that she was experiencing some of the warning signs – her legs felt heavy, her stomach swollen.
She recalls that she went on the Go Red website and found she had "quite a few" of the warning signs of heart attack. But still she resisted going to the hospital.
"So late at night, after I realized I couldn't get everything done, I finally said, 'If I lay down in this bed, I may not get back up,'" she says.
She went to the hospital then and was there for nine days. She was diagnosed with congestive heart failure caused by numerous blood clots and later found out she has pulmonary hypertension.
Cherry says she wishes she had started paying attention to what her body was telling her earlier. Her advice to women: stop putting your own health last.
"We're not putting ourselves second - we're putting ourselves last," she says. "After your mom and dad's health. Then you've got your children, and you're putting yourself after them. Then you've got your husband, and you're putting him before you. And then - if there are no pets - then you are on the list as far as being taken care of."
Most people recognize pressure in the chest or pain in the left arm as signs of a heart attack. Those are common symptoms in both men and women. But women who are having heart attacks may also feel short of breath, pain in their back or jaw, nausea or sweating.
As well as knowing the symptoms of a heart attack, Shelly Jones with the Gulf Coast chapter of the American Heart Association, says women can learn their risks and take steps to reduce them, says Shelly Jones, regional director of the Mississippi Gulf Coast region for the American Heart Association, which is hosting their Go Red event this year on Feb. 21.
"Know their numbers and be proactive," she says. "So things like, checking their cholesteral on a regular basis, checking their BMI, their blood pressure, [living] a healthy lifestyle, exercise and nutrition."
About 7,200 people in Mississippi died from heart disease in 2012, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health. Just under half were women.
Facts about Heart Disease in Women (American Heart Association - Go Red for Women)
Heart Attack Symptoms in Women (American Heart Association)
Hard to Recognize Heart Attack Symptoms (American Heart Association - Go Red for Women)