Welcome to Focus On The Fight, a series of interviews that will be posted weekly, focusing on a blogger and their health.
This week we meet Maggie, she has a multitude of chronic condition including the condition we will highlight this week: Coronary Artery Disease
Before we get into Maggie’s interview let’s take just a second to look at Coronary Artery Disease.
Coronary Heart Disease (CAD) is the most common type of heart disease and is the leading cause of death in the United States in both men and women.
CAD happens when the arteries that supply the blood to the heart muscle become hardened and narrowed. This happened due to buildup of cholesterol and other materials, called plaque, on the inner walls. This build up is known as atherosclerosis. As it grows, blood is unable to flow as freely through the arteries. Which means the heart muscle can’t get the blood or oxygen can’t get the oxygen that it needs. When that happens it can lead to chest pain (angina) or a heart attack. Most heart attacks happen when a blood clot suddenly cuts off the hearts’ blood supply causing permanent heart damage.
Over time, CAD can cause the heart muscle to weaken and can contribute to heart failure and arrhythmias. Heart failure means that the heart isn’t able to pump blood effectively to the rest of the body. Arrhythmias are changes in the normal beating rhythm of the heart.
The Cleveland Clinic has the following information on signs and symptoms of CAD
“The most common symptom of coronary artery disease is angina (also called angina pectoris). Angina is often referred to as chest pain. It is also described as chest discomfort, heaviness, tightness, pressure, aching, burning, numbness, fullness, or squeezing. It can be mistaken for indigestion or heartburn. Angina is usually felt in the chest, but may also be felt in the left shoulder, arms, neck, back or jaw.
If you have angina or any of the symptoms listed below that last for more than 5 minutes, SEEK EMERGENCY TREATMENT (CALL 9-1-1) WITHOUT DELAY. These symptoms could be the signs of a heart attack (also called myocardial infarction or MI) and immediate treatment is essential.
Pain or discomfort in other areas of the upper body including the arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
Sweating or "cold sweat"
Fullness, indigestion, or choking feeling (may feel like "heartburn")
Nausea or vomiting
Light-headedness, dizziness, extreme weakness or anxiety
Rapid or irregular heart beats”
It is also important to remember that the signs and symptoms of heart disease and CAD can be VERY DIFFERENT IN WOMEN. Below is what the Cleveland Clinic states about CAD in women.
“Symptoms of coronary artery disease in women:
Studies show that women's symptoms are less likely identified as heart disease related. The symptoms of coronary artery disease and heart attack can be different for women than they are in men. Women are also less likely to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack and seek treatment. By learning and recognizing the symptoms, women can become assertive in their treatment. The most common symptoms of heart disease in women are:
Pain or pressure over the chest that travels to the arm or jaw
A burning sensation in the chest or upper abdomen
Shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, sweating, fatigue and nausea.
On average, symptoms of heart disease appear 10 years later in women than men. Women tend to have heart attacks 10 years later than men do.
In addition, women often report their symptoms before having a heart attack, although the symptoms are not typical "heart" symptoms. In a multi-center study of 515 women who had an acute myocardial infarction (MI), the most frequently reported symptoms were unusual fatigue, sleep disturbances, shortness of breath, indigestion and anxiety. The majority of women (78%) reported at least one symptom for more than one month before their heart attack. Only 30% reported chest discomfort, which was described as an aching, tightness, pressure, sharpness, burning, fullness or tingling.”
The following information found from The Mayo Clinic explains the causes and risk factor Coronary artery disease. “CAD is thought to begin with damage or injury to the inner layer of a coronary artery, sometimes as early as childhood. The damage may be caused by various factors, including:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Diabetes or insulin resistance
- Sedentary lifestyle
Once the inner wall of an artery is damaged, fatty deposits (plaque) made of cholesterol and other cellular waste products tend to accumulate at the site of injury in a process called atherosclerosis. If the surface of the plaque breaks or ruptures, blood cells called platelets will clump at the site to try to repair the artery. This clump can block the artery, leading to a heart attack.
Risk factors for coronary artery disease include:
- Age. Simply getting older increases your risk of damaged and narrowed arteries.
- Sex. Men are generally at greater risk of coronary artery disease. However, the risk for women increases after menopause.
- Family history. A family history of heart disease is associated with a higher risk of coronary artery disease, especially if a close relative developed heart disease at an early age. Your risk is highest if your father or a brother was diagnosed with heart disease before age 55 or if your mother or a sister developed it before age 65.
- Smoking. People who smoke have a significantly increased risk of heart disease. Exposing others to your secondhand smoke also increases their risk of coronary artery disease.
- High blood pressure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can result in hardening and thickening of your arteries, narrowing the channel through which blood can flow.
- High blood cholesterol levels. High levels of cholesterol in your blood can increase the risk of formation of plaque and atherosclerosis. High cholesterol can be caused by a high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, known as the "bad" cholesterol. A low level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, known as the "good" cholesterol, can also contribute to the development of atherosclerosis.
- Diabetes. Diabetes is associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease. Type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease share similar risk factors, such as obesity and high blood pressure.
- Overweight or obesity. Excess weight typically worsens other risk factors.
- Physical inactivity. Lack of exercise also is associated with coronary artery disease and some of its risk factors, as well.
- High stress. Unrelieved stress in your life may damage your arteries as well as worsen other risk factors for coronary artery disease.
- Unhealthy diet. Eating too much food that has high amounts of saturated fat, trans fat, salt and sugar can increase your risk of coronary artery disease.
Risk factors often occur in clusters and may build on one another, such as obesity leading to type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. When grouped together, certain risk factors put you at an even greater risk of coronary artery disease. For example, metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that includes elevated blood pressure, high triglycerides, low HDL, or "good," cholesterol, elevated insulin levels and excess body fat around the waist — increases the risk of coronary artery disease.
Sometimes coronary artery disease develops without any classic risk factors. Researchers are studying other possible factors, including:
- Sleep apnea. This disorder causes you to repeatedly stop and start breathing while you're sleeping. Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that occur during sleep apnea increase blood pressure and strain the cardiovascular system, possibly leading to coronary artery disease.
- High sensitivity C-reactive protein. High sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) is a normal protein that appears in higher amounts when there's inflammation somewhere in your body. High hs-CRP levels may be a risk factor for heart disease. It's thought that as coronary arteries narrow, you'll have more hs-CRP in your blood.
- High triglycerides. This is a type of fat (lipid) in your blood. High levels may raise the risk of coronary artery disease, especially for women.
- Homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid your body uses to make protein and to build and maintain tissue. But high levels of homocysteine may increase your risk of coronary artery disease.
- Preeclampsia. This condition that can develop in women during pregnancy causes high blood pressure and a higher amount of protein in urine. It can lead to a higher risk of heart disease later in life.
- Alcohol use. Heavy alcohol use can lead to heart muscle damage. It can also worsen other risk factors of coronary artery disease.
- Autoimmune diseases. Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus (and other inflammatory rheumatologic conditions) have an increased risk of atherosclerosis.”
Now let’s jump into Maggie’s interview.
Before we dive into the heavy stuff, let’s learn a little about Maggie outside of her health! Maggie please tell us about your yourself, your family or your hobbies !!
I live in Boston with my husband and two cats. I love reading, crafting, knitting, crocheting.
Please share briefly what led you to the decision to become a blogger who focuses on chronic illness and also patient advocate if that applies to you.
I suffered a massive heart attack in 2015 which left me with severe heart failure. After meeting others on fb I started a heart failure group which continues to grow in members. We are currently over 7.5K strong. I went from 0 issues to 100s overnight when I had the heart attack. It's hard to navigate and the patient is often left in the dark. I now consider myself a patient advocate for both better healthcare and access to date. I also have an ICD and am not able to obtain my data which is another fight for another day.
What Chronic Illness (en) have you been diagnosed with? Which one will you focus on today?
Heart Failure, Deep Vein Thrombosis, Low EF, Coronary Artery Disease.
Diagnosing a Chronic Illness can sadly be a VERY long process! For you, how long did it take for an official diagnosis? And did you have to act your own advocate to get a doctor to take what was going on in your life seriously and look for a diagnosis?
The day after my heart attack I was diagnosed with everything. 3 years after I developed a massive clot on my ICD lead which led to new problems.
Chronic illness is just that, chronic. Please share with us how your illness (s) impacts your daily life!
The fatigue is often unexpected and overwhelming. I'm also on a lot of blood thinners and bruise easily. I constantly get asked if "I feel safe.”
Sadly, being chronically ill can take a toll on all kinds of relationships. Have you noticed this in your life? If so how has your health impacted the relationships in your life?
It's been tough as I have not been able to work full time.
Living with chronic illness can be live changing. Have you found that your life has changed significantly over the years of living with your condition? If so, in what ways has it changed?
We moved to Boston 6 weeks after my heart attack to be closer to better care and family. So we went from a large 4 bedroom house to a tiny 800 sq ft apt! Took some getting used to.
All diseases have different kinds of flare ups, and every one will exhibit different signs of flare ups. For you what signs do you know to watch when a flare is coming your way?
I experience extreme fatigue at times and can not get out of bed. I also suffer from PVCs when I'm tired, dehydrated or my heart is weak. I am pretty in tune with my body and the signals which cause concern. I have a multitude of sensors, tricks in my tool box to self diagnose.
What do you do to treat your flares? Or to make your bad days better?
I have learned I need to nap and take breaks when I experience severe fatigue. Also supplements help the arrhythmias.
Being diagnosed with a chronic illness can be very overwhelming. If you could give one piece of advice to someone who is going through the diagnosis process, or is newly diagnosed, what would it be?
Take it one day at a time. It gets better as you get used to your new life. I've also made so many new friends with this similar condition whom I would never have met otherwise. We are a close knit group of broken hearts and I love my fellow hearties.
Living with a chronic condition is hard, it's just! Especially because for the most part there are no outward symptoms that can be seen by others. If you could share one thing with the public about living with a chronic illness what would you want them to know?
I may look ok, but I'm not.
Where You Can Follow Maggie
For further information on CAD check out: