My Wake-Up Call

24 Feb 2016

By Sharon Stein

Cardiovascular disease…Not me- I am too young for that.

I was shocked when I got the text from my husband.  A friend and colleague had just had a stroke.  She was in the Neuro ICU with dysarthria and left sided paralysis.  Her systolic blood pressure was greater than 200.

This wasn’t some white haired mentor of his – this was our friend, someone we go out to dinner with, our contemporary.  She is a go-getter, an excellent physician, on the top of her game.  Sure she worked too hard, didn’t have enough time for exercise, didn’t eat as well as she could have, but she is not different from me.   She couldn’t have had a stroke, she is too healthy, she is too young, she could be me….

February is American Heart Association Health Month and the truth is that despite our medical training, we tend to be really bad patients. Women are more likely to die from heart disease than cancer.  In fact, it is the number one killer of women.  And busy women like you and me overlook our risk factors and delay our self care.  I’m not overweight, I don’t eat red meat,  I don’t smoke, I work out.  I am too busy taking care of my patients, my family, the bills.  I don’t have time for my “Well Woman” Check ( and my risks are pretty low…..  The truth is, without having a cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose checked, it is hard to determine our true risks of coronary artery disease.

Women also ignore the early signs of cardiac or cerebral vascular disease.   The fatigue, flu like symptoms, and shortness of breath may not be the result of working too hard, they may be the early signs of coronary artery disease.  My friend thought she was just tired and under the weather…right up until her office staff noticed she was mumbling her words.

I am amazingly grateful that my friend made a full recovery.  She is back to work and doing great.  She had a huge wake up call that she needed to take better care of herself: emotionally and physically.   She’s made major changes to prioritize herself, and minimize her stress but it shouldn’t take a heart attack or stroke for us to do that.

This month, let’s make a promise to ourselves, that we will make the effort: to get our annual check up, to work out a little bit more, to eat a bit healthier and take better care of ourselves.

Sharon Stein

Sharon Stein is an associate professor of surgery in the division of colon and rectal surgery at University Hospitals/Case Medical Center in Cleveland Ohio.  She is the secretary of the Association of Women Surgeons.

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author, and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

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