Women Take Charge of Their Health

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the No. 1 killer of women. It claims more women’s lives than all forms of cancer combined.

It’s not just a problem for “older” women. Heart disease and stroke can affect a woman at any age. In fact, new research shows heart attacks are on the rise in younger women. That’s why it’s important for all women to take charge of their heart health and encourage others to do the same.

Starting at age 20, women should get screened for CVD risk factors. Take charge and know the five key personal health numbers that help determine risk for heart disease: total cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index. Know your family history and talk to your doctor about heart disease.

Even modest changes to diet and lifestyle can lower risk by as much as 80%. Make living a healthy lifestyle a priority by moving more, eating smart and managing blood pressure. Track your physical activity, weight and blood pressure through the American Heart Association’s Check. Change. Control.® Tracker.

Go Red for Women® is the American Heart Association’s movement to end heart disease and stroke in women. Go Red for Women® is working in communities around the world to help women understand that cardiovascular disease is their greatest health threat and empower them to take action to lower their risk.

More research is needed to find new ways to treat, beat and prevent heart disease in women. Participating in research has never been easier or more important. Research Goes Red puts women in the driver’s seat to accelerate scientific discovery by contributing to health research through clinical trials, surveys, focus groups and more.

Go Red for Women® empowers women to get healthy through Watch Me Go Red — a campaign designed to engage women to show others what they do to experience good health and well-being, while inspiring others to do the same. Because together, there’s nothing women can’t achieve.

Tasya Lacy and Nicole Murray are perfect examples. Tasya was 50 when she experienced a heart attack and Nicole was only 29 when she experienced not one, but two strokes. Here are their stories.

Tasya Lacy

Tasya Lacy

Hula hoop fitness instructor and business owner, Tasya Lacy thought she was in the best shape of her life — until she had a heart attack.

She was struggling with what she figured was a pulled muscle near her left shoulder blade. Two weeks later, she couldn’t shake the pain or a relentless exhaustion despite taking pain relievers.

Her husband, Dale, urged her to take a break from teaching several hula hoop classes a week. She resisted, but she did pledge to rest after leading an upcoming hoopa- thon. The event was full of beginners, so she thought it might end early; instead, a few stalwarts hooped for three hours straight.

As the event was nearing the end, Lacy tried to demonstrate some moves when she suddenly felt a pain in her chest that radiated through her left arm. “I thought I’d pulled something again and played it off and said, ‘Oh, I can’t do this because I’m 50,’ because I was embarrassed,” said the now 54-year-old living in Columbus, Ohio.

Later, Lacy went to a friend’s wedding reception, feeling guilty she’d missed the ceremony earlier. Within a half hour, she began to feel nauseated and quickly returned home.

Once home, Lacy struggled to get comfortable and tried to make her way to the bedroom when she again felt a jolt of pain. Her husband took one look and announced they were going to the hospital. “The last thing I remember was saying, ‘I don’t want to go to the hospital,’ and woke up with tubes everywhere,” she said.

Lacy was having a heart attack. She underwent catherization, a procedure doctors use to diagnose and treat some heart conditions. It involves inserting a long, thin tube called a catheter in an artery or vein in the groin, neck or arm and thread it through blood vessels to the heart. After Lacy’s catheterization, doctors placed three stents to open a 99% blockage in her main coronary artery.

Since that 2016 event, Lacy has focused her life on staying healthy. She also has struggled to process what had happened. Over the next few months, she returned to the hospital several times, fearful of another heart attack. She sank into depression and gained weight after she stopped exercising.

“I was mad at the world,” she said. “I thought I was doing everything right and still had a heart attack.” But with support from her family, friends and faith, Lacy recovered.

She still experiences angina and she knows she’s at risk for a second heart attack. So she closely monitors symptoms, seeking help when something is wrong rather than ignoring it.

Doctors aren’t sure what caused Lacy’s heart attack. She wasn’t aware of any risk factors and was told the form of hereditary angioedema she was diagnosed with at 19 wasn’t to blame. Because Lacy didn’t know her father, she isn’t sure if she had a family history of heart disease.

In 2017, she connected with the local American Heart Association. For the past three years she has organized Hoop for your Heart, an annual fundraiser encouraging women of all ages to find a physical activity that motivates them. The event raises health awareness and funds for the American Heart Association. “I realize hula hooping isn’t for everyone, but I also know I wouldn’t have been working out if my only choice was a treadmill,” she said.

At her husband’s urging, Lacy eventually returned to teaching hula hoop classes, sharing her experience with her students and encouraging them to learn the symptoms and risks of heart attack and to listen to their bodies.

“My friend’s husband got the help he needed because I reminded them both to recognize and know the symptoms of heart attack — and he ended up undergoing a triple bypass,” she said.

“I found my purpose.”

Nicole Murray

Nicole Murray

When Nicole Murray finished a grueling, two-and-a-half- hour hike to the top of the mountain in Hawaii in 2016, she burst into tears, overwhelmed by her feat.

Just two years earlier, she had survived two strokes. She’s come a long way since the frightening morning of June 29, 2014. For nearly a week, she’d been too exhausted to leave her bed or eat without getting sick. When she tried to resume her normal chores, she heard a strange popping in her ear. Her mouth went numb and she felt like her teeth were falling out. “I got scared and called my mom, but no words were coming out,” Murray said.

Murray didn’t realize it, but along with weakness on one side, she was experiencing common signs of a stroke. Fortunately, Murray’s mom arrived a few minutes later to take her to the hospital.

As she underwent various tests, the 29-year-old Murray recalled someone saying, “You’d think she had a stroke, but she’s too young.” But MRI tests showed she had a hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures and bleeds into surrounding brain tissue.

During a therapy session three months later — as she was gradually recovering — her speech began to slur and she was missing syllables. “My therapist looked at me and said, ‘We almost had you back to perfect and now it sounds strange,’” Murray said.

At the therapist’s urging, Murray underwent testing a week later that showed she had experienced an ischemic stroke, in which a clot blocks blood flow to the brain.

Over the next two years, Murray struggled to recover from the physical and emotional toll of her strokes. Even when she finally returned to work, she still hadn’t fully recovered her speech and was always exhausted. Her short-term memory suffered. “I would put milk into the cabinet instead of the fridge and would forget if I’d done something only a few minutes earlier,” she said.

Murray would often burst out crying, a result of pseudobulbar affect, or PBA, a condition associated with stroke and other neurological conditions that can also cause sudden uncontrollable and inappropriate laughing.

She then fell into a deep depression, at times feeling suicidal. “I just got used to crying every day but couldn’t tell if I was sad or because I couldn’t control it,” she said.

Murray, who prided herself as an articulate conversationalist and a poet, was anxious in social situations. Her speech was slow and slurred, and sometimes the wrong and nonsensical words would come out of her mouth.

Leaning on her faith and support from family and friends, Murray focused on recovery, including making lifestyle changes to support heart and brain health. She began exercising and lost some of the weight she’d gained following her strokes.

Murray had a special goal to motivate her: hiking up a mountain in Hawaii, where her brother was stationed in the Army. “Setting goals was really important to me,” she said. “It took me two and a half hours to get up the mountain and took a lot out of me, but it was such a huge thing for me to say that I did it.”

Doctors aren’t sure what triggered Murray’s strokes, but they said excess weight and high cholesterol increased her risks. She had experienced migraines for two years before her strokes, which doctors told her may have been a warning sign.

Murray later learned three of her relatives had survived strokes. “My family never talked about it,” she said. In the years since her strokes, three more family members — her brother included — had strokes.

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in America and a leading cause of disability. The risk of having a first stroke is nearly twice as high for blacks as for whites, and blacks have the highest rate of death due to stroke. Among women, black women have the highest prevalence of stroke.

Murray has inspired her family to talk more about health issues. She also encourages others to recognize and respond to stroke with F.A.S.T.:

  • Face drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Slurred speech
  • Time to call 911

Murray, who is now 34 and lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, is also inspiring her friends to join her at the gym. “I have a lot more energy, but I also know when to say no so that I’m not doing too much,” she said.


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