Hopefully most of you know this already, but February is American Heart Month! And that’s not just because of Valentine’s Day, roses and chocolates — it’s also a month dedicated to heart disease awareness.
For a long time, awareness of the risks of heart disease in women was incredibly low. Thankfully, through amazing initiatives from the American Heart Association and people all over the country and the world, our perspective on this issue is changing for the better every day.
But it’s still not enough. Heart disease kills a woman every minute, and only 20% of women correctly identify it as their leading health threat. It can strike if you’re young, old, active, sedentary, a chain-smoker or a marathon runner.
Two years ago, around the time we left New York, I started having heart flutters that seemed to come out of nowhere. After asking my primary care doctor about it, she suggested that I go see a cardiologist, and even gave me the name of a doctor to try.
Do you know how long that name sat on my desk?
Six months. I moved across the country, completely ignoring this scary, potentially dangerous symptom I was having, for a number of reasons: I was in denial, it was too scary to know if anything was wrong, and I figured that I was young and healthy, so there couldn’t really be anything to worry about.
So I understand how women can walk around, oblivious to heart disease risks. It’s easy to be oblivious. It’s a lot less scary.
But it’s also incredibly dangerous. If Chad had told me that he was having those same symptoms, I would have booked a doctor’s appointment for him in a second. And yet, for some reason, I couldn’t seem to take that same basic precaution to protect my own health.
It’s not an uncommon problem that women have (and men, too): we can be really bad at taking care of ourselves. Sometimes it’s because we’re too busy taking care of everyone else, sometimes it’s because we’re afraid, and sometimes it’s because when we’re making our lists of priorities, it’s easy to put ourselves dead last.
In the end, I was lucky: after moving to Houston, I saw a terrific cardiologist who was able to capture my heart flutters an EKG, and who told me definitively that it was benign and didn’t need treatment. But to this day, it gives me chills to wonder about the impact of those months of delay, if it had been something more serious.
So, this month, I’m putting on every red item in my closet (well, many of them) to remind you all to take care of yourselves. Eat healthy, stay active, take steps to reduce your day-to-day stress, and make sure that you’re paying attention to your body.
And the next time you make that priority list, remember to put yourself on it too.