Heart disease and stroke: What women survivors want you to know

Heart disease and stroke is the #1 killer of women in Canada but most women don't know it. More women die of cardiovascular disease than from all cancers combined.

Some women know this risk all too well. They're the survivors who have overcome the devastating effects of heart attacks and stroke. They've learned the hard way about missed symptoms and neglected risk factors. Here's what they want all women to know. (Click on the names to read more about their experience.)

"Don't assume it couldn't happen to you"
I didn't think I was at risk because I was active and had normal cholesterol levels. I'm definitely more careful with my diet now. I always check the labels when I go shopping, cook with olive oil instead of butter, eat smaller portions of meat and don't eat sweets.
Micheline Legault » heart attack at 60

"Make time for your health"
As a single mother working 60-hour weeks, I had no time to take care of myself. I had high blood pressure but I wasn't concerned about it. I knew I should be losing weight and exercising but I kept putting it off. Now I know I have to stay active, eat well and keep stress under control.
Jennifer MacLean » heart attack at 39

"Not all symptoms are common"
Even though I had a family history of heart disease, I didn't recognize my symptoms. The warning signs of a heart attack can be tricky to spot. It started with my just feeling run down and fatigued for weeks. I also experienced pain in my back, across both shoulder blades and down my right arm, but especially in my jaw. I was in denial and thought, "This can't be heart-related! I'm too young."
Lori Robb » heart attack at 48

"Know the warning signs of stroke"
Like most women, I thought I was invincible. I was a driven businesswoman, running five restaurants. Thankfully, I knew the warning signs of stroke and acted on them quickly. That saved my life. I now run six restaurants, but my advice is: learn to handle stress better and definitely learn to delegate!
Stephanie Bertossi » stroke at 45

"Trust your instincts"
An E.R. doctor misdiagnosed my symptoms (chest pain, nausea, pain in my left arm) as acid reflux. Despite worsening cardiac symptoms for two weeks, I felt too embarrassed to go back to hospital. When I finally returned to the E.R., I learned I'd somehow survived a heart attack. My advice: You know your body! You know when something is just not right. Be your own best advocate.
Carolyn Thomas » heart attack at 58

"Women need to accept that the threat of heart disease and stroke is very real," says Dr. Beth Abramson, cardiologist and Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson.

"Just as important is the fact that women who make lifestyle changes to improve their health can reduce their risk of premature heart disease and stroke by as much as 80 per cent."

© – Reproduced with permission of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, 2012