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Questions Women Should Ask about Heart Health – Carolyn Thomas [Podcast]

heart health Dec 15, 2020

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CAROLYN THOMAS

SHOW LINKS 
My blog:  Heart Sisters (18.1 million views from 190 countries)
My book: “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017)

In this episode, Jim talks with Carolyn Thomas. Carolyn is a Mayo Clinic-trained women’s health advocate, heart attack survivor, and author of the book A Women’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease.

She also writes a daily blog called Heart Sisters (www.MyHeartSisters.org). Heart Sisters been around since 2009 and is visited by millions of people every year seeking information for better heart health.


During their eye-opening conversation, Carolyn and Jim discuss whether high blood pressure is always an indicator of heart disease–and what to do about it… six of the biggest myths about women and heart disease… the recovery-boosting habits she adopted following her own heart attack… the deadly discrepancy between heart disease diagnosis for men and women… and the life-saving questions women aren’t asking their doctors about their heart health.

Highlights

  • Whether high blood pressure is always an indicator of heart disease—and what to do about it
  • Six of the biggest myths about women and heart disease
  • The recovery-boosting habits she adopted following her own heart attack
  • The deadly discrepancy between heart disease diagnosis for men and women
  • The life-saving questions women aren’t asking their doctors about their heart health

 Transcript

Hey there, welcome to the Sound Health podcast. My name is Jim Donovan. It’s nice to see you today. Thank you for joining us. Today, I get to interview a really wonderful woman. She is an author and a women’s health advocate, and her name is Carolyn Thomas. Carolyn is a Mayo Clinic trained women’s health advocate, and she’s also a heart attack survivor and author of a women’s guide to living with heart disease. You can get her daily blog, her book, and all kinds of other free resources at her website, which is myheartsisters.org. Her blog has been around since 2009 and has been visited by millions of people every year seeking information for better heart health. It’s a really great interview. Carolyn’s a warm, wonderful person and let’s get started.

Jim Donovan:

Carolyn, thank you so much for being willing to be on the show. I’m so excited to talk to you, to get to learn from you. A lot of my clientele, so I’ve been doing retreats and workshops for about two decades and the majority of my clientele and also my readers on my sound health newsletter are majority women. And so I’m excited for them to get to learn from you as well. So welcome to the show. Thank you for being here.

Carolyn Thomas:

Thank you for inviting me.

Jim Donovan:

So you are … tell me where in the world are you tuning in from today?

Carolyn Thomas:

I live in Victoria, most beautiful city in Canada and that’s on the West Coast of the country, just across the pond from Vancouver.

Jim Donovan:

Oh, very nice. Very nice. And are you getting some of the fire activity, the smoke and all that stuff?

Carolyn Thomas:

Yes, we are. Luckily where I live, fire season has been mild this year, but we’re getting a lot of smoke from, of course the Washington, Oregon and California fires.

Jim Donovan:

Yeah. This morning I woke up to the news and it said that the smoke had actually traveled across the whole way to the Eastern United States where I am, I’m in Pennsylvania. It’s in DC. It’s in New York. I mean, it’s nothing like what everyone’s experiencing out west, but it’s just a fascinating thing. It’s a such a big planet, but yet it’s so small at the same time.

Carolyn Thomas:

Unbelievable. I know.

Jim Donovan:

So I’m wondering if we can start. So your main focus is women and heart disease. Is that accurate to say it that way?

Carolyn Thomas:

Yep. That’s very accurate, yes.

Jim Donovan:

So I’m wondering what are some of like the disconnections between how women think about heart disease before they have it and what’s actually true about it? Like what are some of the myths that people mistakenly believe?

Carolyn Thomas:

That’s a great question, Jim. And I think it starts with your first question, which is what are the disconnects that women have themselves? And if they’re anything like me, if I ever thought about heart attacks, which is what I survived, but if I ever thought about that my whole life which was approximately never. But if I did, I always pictured a man having a heart attack. And usually I pictured an old man, an old fat man, old on the golf course who suddenly clutches his chest and falls down unconscious. And then you have 911, siren, CPR, panic.

Carolyn Thomas:

To me that was a heart attack. And when I was having my heart attack, I had none of that. I could walk and talk and think and go to work and drive my car. I walked into the emergency department and said, basically, “Sorry to bother you, I think I might be a [inaudible 00:03:49].” And I recommend to all of your viewers and listeners to watch the Go Red for Women film by … oh, her name is escaping me unfortunately, Elizabeth … it’ll come to me. Anyway, fantastic, three minute film called Just A Little Heart Attack. It is hilariously funny. And in three minutes she packs in every excuse that women use, that this could not possibly be a heart attack. So it’s a very effective teaching aid for women.

Carolyn Thomas:

Now, the reality, which I only discovered after my own heart attack and I had a misdiagnosed heart attack, I should add that because I know that I would not be speaking to you or anybody else, or I wouldn’t have a blog. I wouldn’t have written my book. I wouldn’t do anything had I not been misdiagnosed. And that gets your attention in a very powerful way. For one thing, my symptoms were not like that old fat guy on the golf course and that guy, by the way exists, but that’s not a heart attack. What I was describing is probably sudden cardiac arrest, which is an electrical problem.

Carolyn Thomas:

The heart attack that I had, which is caused by a blocked coronary artery, that’s a plumbing problem, so if we look at those two issues. There is the man on the golf course and about 75% of the time sudden cardiac arrest does happen to men, so that part of my stereotype was almost correct. Women are far more likely to get the blocked artery kind of heart attack, the plumbing problem like I had. However, there are a couple differences. We’re more likely to get a single vessel blockage. So a blockage in only one coronary artery, all the others are clean as a whistle as my cardiologist told me in the hospital.

Carolyn Thomas:

We also tend to get heart attacks caused by a small vessel disease. They call this non-obstructive coronary artery disease. So it’s a dysfunction of the lining of the coronary arteries. These are the smaller ones that branch out. They get smaller and smaller and smaller, but they still feed blood to the heart muscle. So if these are not working, they’re too small to stent, they’re too small to bypass. About a year after my initial heart attack, I was also diagnosed with coronary microvascular disease, which again is more common in women and it affects those tiny, tiny, the small vessels that feed the heart muscle.

Carolyn Thomas:

So now what I know about the difference between men and women is shocking. It shocked me and about, I’ll just back up a little bit to about five months after my heart attack, I was on the Mayo Clinic website, which I highly recommend as a general all-purpose health information site. You just type in whatever your condition or disease is, and you’ll get a ton of very credible and sound experience. And there’s a lot of horrible information on the internet. So you have to be really careful that what you’re seeking comes from a credible source. So that’s why I like to recommend Mayo.

Carolyn Thomas:

And I was on the Mayo Clinic website one day and there was a little blurb on the sidebar that said, “Are you a woman living with heart disease? Apply today to attend the annual science and leadership symposium for women with heart disease.” So I thought, okay, I’m a woman living with heart disease. I would love to go to Mayo Clinic and it was all expenses paid. They flew me out there and put me up in a beautiful hotel and it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t get accepted.

Carolyn Thomas:

And as it turned out, I only found out when I got there that there’re way more applications than they do spots. And I was the first Canadian ever to be accepted. So then it was like the Olympics. I felt like I was representing my country. And also I didn’t know geography very well when they said Rochester, because my mother lived in Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada, and I thought they were talking about Rochester, New York. And I thought this would be awesome. If I get to go to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, New York, I could just zip up and visit my mom at the same time.

Jim Donovan:

Right, it’s pretty close, yeah.

Carolyn Thomas:

Of course, Rochester the Mayo clinic is nowhere near Rochester, New York, it’s Rochester, Minnesota. So I got to visit an entirely different area of the United States. Still very nice, but nowhere near my mother.

Jim Donovan:

Yeah, oh boy that’s far.

Carolyn Thomas:

And during that training, the training is fantastic. This year, it’s going to be virtual training for the first time ever. So it’s going to be interesting to see how that goes. There were 45 of us women who attended from all over America and me. And we learned from female cardiologists, the differences between men’s heart disease and women’s heart disease. So some of the differences were, for example, women are five times more likely to die from heart disease than from breast cancer, which is a surprise to many women. Because if you asked women, what are you most afraid of in terms of what’s a health risk that you might get, and that you’re worried about getting it? I think the majority of women would say breast cancer.

Carolyn Thomas:

We’re very afraid of breast cancer, which is a horrible diagnosis. It’s a terrifying, awful diagnosis. So I’m not making light of that at all, but women should be far more frightened of developing heart disease and yet we’re not. I think a lot of women were like me. They think that’s a man’s problem and it is both a man’s and a woman’s problem. And there’s nothing like being misdiagnosed with the biggest killer of women to have you focus laser-like attention on what the heck just happened to me. Why did this happen? How could that doctor have misdiagnosed me and sent me home from emergency, and does this happen to other people?

Carolyn Thomas:

So what I learned at Mayo was shocking because I learned it happens to many more women than men. One study suggested that women are seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed in mid-heart attack and sent home from emergency just as I was. So this is an issue that applies to all women. And if it doesn’t apply to you personally, it’ll apply to somebody that you know, your sister, your mom, your cousin, your aunt, your daughter. So it’s an issue that I wish I had known more about long before I had my own heart attack.

Jim Donovan:

So, it makes sense that you’ve been writing, how many articles have you written so far? Do you have a count of them yet?

Carolyn Thomas:

In My Heart Sisters blog, it’s over 800. I don’t know the exact number but it’s 800. Yeah. And I started it in 2009. So I’ve been doing this for a long time.

Jim Donovan:

So you’re shouting this from the mountain top because …

Carolyn Thomas:

My little tiny mountain top here in Canada, yes.

Jim Donovan:

You say that, but yet there’s millions and millions of people that have read your post.

Carolyn Thomas:

I know, I know, it’s crazy. I have over 18 million views. It astounds me because I didn’t start it off … I just started it off because when I got back from Mayo Clinic full of everything that had just been pumped into my head about women being underdiagnosed and undertreated compared to our male counterparts. So back in those days, I like to say that I was completely insufferable. Like no woman was safe from me. The woman at the bus stop sitting next to me, I would whip around and say, “Did you know the that …” I’m better now. I don’t do that nearly as often as I used to, when I came home like an evangelist. But when I did come home … Oh, go ahead.

Jim Donovan:

No it’s like, but that’s so important because you knew that you had some information that women needed to know.

Carolyn Thomas:

Yes. I was a bit obnoxious at the beginning. But one of the things I did do was to start doing free talks about women’s heart disease. Basically, just sort of packaging everything that I learned over five days of my training at Mayo into a 90 minute presentation. And I started doing these talks just to … and my original ones, I called Pinot like the wine P-I-N-O-T, pinot and prevention, because one of the things we learned at Mayo was that red wine, one glass a day, and no, you cannot save them up and have all seven glasses on Saturday.

Jim Donovan:

One bottle.

Carolyn Thomas:

Red wine at that time was considered cardioprotective. So in other words, if you want to have a glass of wine with dinner on occasion, good for you. So we call them pinot and prevention parties, and then we just held in people’s living rooms. They were very informal, but pretty soon every time I gave one of these pinot one prevention talks, five or six or 10 women would say, would you come and do the same talk, for me or for my Rotary club or for my Quantis group. And pretty soon I was booked up three months in advance doing these talks.

Carolyn Thomas:

So I just decided I’ll start off a little website just to let people know how to book a talk. That’s really all I was saying. And then every once in a while, I’d say maybe I should do some value added stuff here on this little website and write an article about some of the most commonly asked questions at my talks, based on all of my resource material from Mayo. So I started with one article and then two articles and then five and 20 and 50. And then now I’ve got 800, so.

Carolyn Thomas:

And basically I write about what I wish I’d known myself. So you have something that, gee, I wish I’d known that before I left the hospital. I read a lot about the act of becoming a patient because I never saw myself as a patient who was going to be diagnosed with a chronic and progressive diagnosis anytime in my life. I’d been a distance runner for 19 years. I considered myself to be healthy. There was no history of heart disease in my family. And by the way, I should just add that a family history is confusing because a lot of people would say, “Oh, my grandmother died of a heart attack. My uncle Bob had a heart attack.”

Carolyn Thomas:

What they really are looking at are first degree relatives, if your mom or your sister, and this is true for men or women, if your mom or your sister had a cardiac event of any kind, doesn’t have to be a heart attack, but just something wrong with their heart before the age of 65, or if your dad or brother again, only first degree relatives. If your dad or brother had a cardiac event before the age of 55, because we know that men are about 10 years earlier to get their heart disease compared to women. That’s when you have a family history, only if those two groups. And I had none of that. Although after my heart attack, I have two brothers and two sisters and two grown children who are mad at me now because they now have a family history, which they didn’t have before I had my heart attack.

Jim Donovan:

Wow. So as you’ve been in your progress of healing, your process of healing, what new habits have you took on if any, to help you through this?

Carolyn Thomas:

Well, as I said before, I was already a pretty physically active person, but that is the one thing, if you don’t do anything else, if you’re diagnosed with any type of heart disease, doing something physically active is probably the number one thing you can do. Dr. John Mandrel is a cardiologist in Kentucky and he likes to say, “You only have to exercise on the days you plan to eat,” which I think is a pretty good, that’s a pretty good tool, right? Did I have breakfast today? Oh yes. Okay. Then today’s the day, right?

Carolyn Thomas:

So it doesn’t matter what you do. Just get out and walk and walk. And walking is probably the number one exercise for a freshly diagnosed heart patient, because everybody can do it. You might have to do it very slow and my first week I remember walking with my son Ben, just down to the corner and back, and I had to hold onto his arm the whole way, feeling like an old lady. And I thought, what just happened to me? But pretty soon I was able to go two blocks and then I was able to go three blocks. And it’s like, any other kinds of rehabilitation, you just have to keep doing it and put one foot in front of the other.

Carolyn Thomas:

And I was also really fortunate that I went to cardiac rehabilitation program, which is a separate supervised program just for heart patients to help them, with the supervision of somebody who’s watching them every minute, because often we’re so frightened. We’re frightened to get our heart rate back up again. We’re frightened to go too fast on the treadmill. So it’s safe. It’s supervised. You have the social benefit of being with other people, just like you, other heart patients. And it’s been found that attending a supervised cardiac rehabilitation program, usually they’re two to three months, few times a week, can lower your risk of having another cardiac event by 30%. That’s fantastic. That’s better than stents.

Jim Donovan:

That’s huge.

Carolyn Thomas:

It is, but we have a very low referral rate from physicians for some reason, which is very annoying to me because here’s this non-invasive, non-drug perfectly healthy program that affects every cell in our bodies. So it’s not only good for our hearts. It’s good for everything. It’s good for our moods. It’s good for everything. And for some reason, doctors are not specifically referring their patients. And by referring, I don’t mean clicking a button on a computer that says … that ticks a box that says, eligible for cardiac rehabilitation. I want that physician to take 11 seconds face-to-face before that person leaves the hospital and says, “Listen, there’s a program called cardiac rehab. It will save lives. I want you to sign up. I personally want you to sign up for that.”

Carolyn Thomas:

And we know that cardiologists who say that that’s how they talk to their patients, they show up. Cardiologists who don’t do that, they have patients that they call non-compliant, meaning they don’t show up. And by the way, that word compliant just makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up because heart patients hate that word. Compliant just means you’re doing whatever the doctor tells you to do, which is a really patriarchal kind of an old fashioned word. So that word they’re trying to ease up a little bit by, now they call it adherent. They want you to be adherent and if you don’t pay attention, then you’re non-adherent.

Carolyn Thomas:

So every few years they come up with a better word, but basically what they’re meaning is we want you to get better and we know that if you do these things we recommend that you will feel better and it will help you prevent another cardiac event happening. So that’s how we have to look at that.

Jim Donovan:

Sounds like a really big deal. And it’s amazing how what a simple solution that is. And yet it’s, it isn’t part of the training or maybe it’s not a part of the early training system that students get when they’re in med school, it’s hard to say.

Carolyn Thomas:

I think that’s … but you brought up a good point about medical school, because I think the way that med students are being taught now about specifically about women and heart disease is different than it would have been 20 or 30 or 40 years ago. And for example-

Jim Donovan:

[inaudible 00:20:17]

Carolyn Thomas:

Yeah, but here’s another example where men and women are very different in terms of their heart disease. We know that virtually all research, all cardiac research for the past 40 years has been done on white middle aged men, which is interesting because if you’re Hispanic or if you’re an African American man, even the study results from those studies may not apply to you because we know that they’re race specific and sex specific. But if all of the treatments and diagnostic tools and follow up protocols have been researched on men, then it’s like saying, we just assume that if it works for men, it’ll probably work for women as well.

Carolyn Thomas:

And when I was at Mayo, one of the cardiologists who taught us, said that in the early days of stents, and I think you’re probably familiar with the stent, it’s like a little chicken wire cage that is implanted into the coronary artery and a balloon expands it so that the blood flow can continue. And millions and millions of people like myself now walk around with these little stainless steel stents inside our hearts for the rest of our natural life. But in the early days, there were no stents that were small enough to fit female patients because they were all manufactured for … Oh, that little voice is the little man who lives inside my laptop. Every 15 minutes will tell me what time it is. Sorry, I don’t know how to shut him off.

Jim Donovan:

I like him.

Carolyn Thomas:

Yeah, he’s a nice guy. I think he’s nice. Yeah, so anyway, if all the research you have has been done on men then chances are, it may not apply as well to women and that’s what we’re finding. So drugs that work as well, very pretty well in white male patients turn out not to work pretty well in women. Diagnostic tests that work very well in white middle aged male patients tend not to work as well for female patients. So now the good news is that several years ago, the funders, the people who paid hospitals and universities to do cardiac research, they implemented a new rule that said you have to have gender equity. You have to include women and men. And the way you interpret the results has to be very set specific for women.

Carolyn Thomas:

So I think that’s going to make a big difference, maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow. But because it takes a long time for what researchers tell physicians for that to show up at the bedside. So we might be waiting a little bit longer. That’s a hugely positive step to say, we know now that Women Are Not Just Small Men. That’s the name of a great book. Dr. Nieca Goldberg out of New York wrote this fantastic book, and she wrote it in 2002. So she’s been talking about … She’s a cardiologist and she has been talking about this for almost 20 years. So slowly it’s coming down the pipe

Jim Donovan:

Yes. I’m very glad to hear it. And it actually takes me to my next question because I recently did a survey of my readers in Sound Health. So I’m always talking about ways we can use music to help things like blood pressure. And as it turns out I’ve surveyed about heart health and if they use any of my techniques for helping things like blood pressure, as I said. And I found that the big interest in 60% of my folks was they want to figure out, what are some natural things I can do to help myself lower my blood pressure? My question is, are the recommendations different between men and women, even for lowering blood pressure?

Carolyn Thomas:

I think, if you’re going to a cardiologist, I think that the first treatment line of defense would probably be a medication that will help you lower your blood pressure. But along with that recommendation are also some non-drug ways. For example, if you’re overweight, losing I think it’s 10% of your body weight, which is not that much when you think of your 150 pounds and you lose 15%, even that small percentage will reduce your blood pressure. We know that exercise will reduce your blood pressure.

Carolyn Thomas:

So there are some non-drug ways for people who want to try that route. But I think that the overall message from physicians is that they want those numbers down. They want your blood pressure numbers to go down. And very few things will do it as quickly as medication. So medications are often the first line for physicians. But patients can cooperate with this. I mean, you’re not a passive helpless victim when you’re in your doctor’s office, ask questions.

Carolyn Thomas:

So if it’s more to you not to have lots of drugs and when you’re a heart patient, you will be prescribed a lot, so you’ll go from zero to 60. You’ll have a vitamin on one day, and the next day after you’re diagnosed, you’ll have a fistful of cardiac drugs, many of which you’re told you have to take for the rest of your life. So it can be quite a shock. So ask some questions. Is there anything else that I could be doing to help myself lower my blood pressure or lower my cholesterol or lose weight, or do any of the things that we know will help you?

Jim Donovan:

So it’s basically the same as far as, lowering blood pressure is basically the same approach, whether it’s men or women, or?

Carolyn Thomas:

I would say yes, although we do know that women are, as some studies suggest that women are undertreated, even when appropriately diagnosed. For example before you leave the hospital, you, Jim, you, I guarantee you will get a prescription for stents. I cannot guarantee that I would get a prescription for stent. So we know that even with the same symptoms and the same diagnosis and the same treatments that women in some cases are not being treated the same. As an aside, here’s an absolutely fantastic… it’s horrible, but fantastic. A study out of the states a couple of years ago on ambulances, and this is all data-based on what was put into the computer while the paramedics are in the ambulance. So it’s all just data, data, data. And what they found was that when a woman is in the back of the bus as they say, being transported to hospital with cardiac symptoms, because that would all be entered. What’s the reason the patient is presenting with blah, blah, blah. The patient is a woman, age this. There’s the address. And they’re asked, did you use sirens? Did you use flashing lights? If a woman is in the back of the bus, the ambulance driver is far less likely to put on the flashing lights and the siren compared to if a male heart patient is in the back of the bus.

Carolyn Thomas:

So, I mean, explain that to me. How is that possible? Unless this implicit bias that we know exists in cardiology and many other specialties, but what I’ve learned is the cardiology gender implicit bias. If there is an implicit bias among the paramedic and the driver of the ambulance, then how does that exhibit itself? It exhibits itself when they decide not to put the sirens on, not to put the flashing lights on.

Jim Donovan:

Yeah. And thus shouting from the mountain top over and over again, how important this is.

Carolyn Thomas:

Yes.

Jim Donovan:

So I saw this quote on your website. I’m going to read here just to make sure I got it right. I want you to help me understand it. So it was referring to your articles as a combo of journalistic writing and frickity fracking heart attack lingo. Tell me about frickity fracking heart attack lingo.

Carolyn Thomas:

That is well-known to my readers when I want to say what I really want to say, but I don’t say that, I talk about … Like for example, one of the surprising conclusions of a recent study was that heart attack patients, apparently this is published in the European Heart journal, very prestigious journal said, “One of the surprising things is that people in the middle of a heart attack often have a fear of dying.” Well, only somebody who has never been in the middle of a frickity fracking heart attack would even think we should study this.

Carolyn Thomas:

Because why don’t you just imagine that most of us, if we were in the middle of a frickity fracking heart attack, that we would be frightened to death. I mean, you’ve had an experience very similar to this, Jim where you were frightened to death. I don’t think we needed to do a study on you at the time to find out if you were scared because you were in the back of the ambulance with chest pain.

Jim Donovan:

Yeah. Frickity fracking was almost the word that I used with the EMT when they asked me if I was okay. And I said something a little bit worse than frickity fracking because I wasn’t so okay and I was terrified. You’re exactly right. I love that term. I’m probably going to steal that and-

Carolyn Thomas:

You can steal that term if you like.

Jim Donovan:

Although my other responses are pretty hardwired.

Carolyn Thomas:

I know.

Jim Donovan:

So I’ll have to try to use it in front of my kids more often.

Carolyn Thomas:

Yes.

Jim Donovan:

Frickity fracking, yeah. So frickity fracking dinner and be quiet. All right. So what questions are women not asking their doctors about their heart health? Can you think of any?

Carolyn Thomas:

Oh my goodness. What I do know about studies on this very question are that women rarely bring up heart health at all. They’ll ask all kinds of other questions about other things, but it’s not even on women’s radar to even ask the question. And there was a study. If we have some time, I’ll just tell you about this study out of Mayo that looked at women’s priorities. And when I say this list to the women in my audiences, they’re stunned, but they’re all nodding, like, oh, we get it, but isn’t this pathetic. And I’m just going to refer to my notes here is to make sure I get this absolutely correct.

Carolyn Thomas:

So the number one thing that when Mayo clinic asked women, what is most important to you? Because they were very concerned that women are not seeking treatment promptly. Women have what researchers called treatment seeking delay behavior. So they get symptoms, but they’re not calling 911 or they’re minimizing their symptoms and think, oh, it’s probably nothing. It could be the fish taco I had for lunch, or they minimize it by saying, well, if it’s still bothering me tomorrow, maybe I’ll call the doctor. So women do this far more than men.

Carolyn Thomas:

And a UK study found that men fare better after a heart attack than women do because they get to the hospital quicker. And I said, “Well, hello, men have lives. That’s why.” When a man says, “Oh honey, I feel horrible. I have this chest pain and blah, blah, blah.” And the woman says, “Oh my God, you look awful. We’re calling 911. We’re going to the …” And even if he says, “No, no, it’s nothing.” Most women will say we are going, get in the car or get into the ambulance.

Jim Donovan:

That’s true. It’s true in my house.

Carolyn Thomas:

When you’ve got women … so Mayo Clinic asked, what is more important than having a heart attack? If you’re not going to seek immediate help for a heart … what could be possibly more important than that? So here are the six answers. Number one, their kids. Their kids and their family number one across the board, all women said that’s way more important. Number two, was home, our homes, how they look, how clean they are. That’s very important to women and some men. Number three was work, our workplace relationships, the quality of our work, very important to women. Number four, this is where I usually ask my audience, guess what the next one on the list is? And they usually say husbands, and I say, husbands is on the list, but not yet.

Jim Donovan:

Like the number 95.

Carolyn Thomas:

Yeah. Number four is actually pets. Pets, isn’t that perfect. We all love pets. Number six would be spouse.

Jim Donovan:

Six, that’s not as bad as 95, okay.

Carolyn Thomas:

Right below the dog, and the last one off the list and all women in the audience, they all guess this, it’s me, myself. So think about what women are saying. After the kids, the family, the home, work, pets, your husband, then you will pay attention to your needs. So I like to ask the women in my audience, what do you think I would have done when I was having these horrible symptoms after I’d been sent home from emergency, what do you think I would have said to my daughter if she were experiencing those symptoms?

Carolyn Thomas:

And by the way, I had textbook Hollywood, heart attack symptoms, central chest pain, nausea, sweating and pain down my left arm. If my daughter was having, or my mom or my girlfriends, anybody, a perfect stranger was having these symptoms, I would say, I would be screaming blue murder so they get help.

Jim Donovan:

Right.

Carolyn Thomas:

Why wasn’t I screaming blue murder? I just went home from the emergency department feeling so embarrassed because I had made a big fuss over nothing but a little case of indigestion because that’s what the doctor had told me. He said, “You are in the right demographic for acid reflux, go home, see your family doctor, you’ll get a prescription for antacid,” and I could not get out of there fast enough. So the question, getting back to your question, the question that women should be asking is they should be aware. Number one, aware that heart disease is our number one killer.

Jim Donovan:

Number one?

Carolyn Thomas:

Number one, far greater than breast cancer. In fact, heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined.

Jim Donovan:

Wow.

Carolyn Thomas:

So think about that. My friends who work, my entire career has been spent in public relations for corporate government and non-profit sectors. So I know a lot of people who work in public relations for the cancer agencies. And they have done a fantastic job of raising that awareness of their cause and getting people to support it financially and to come out and do runs and walks and all kinds of awareness building so that the rest of the world learns about their cause. And heart disease has not done, same, fantastic job that breast cancer is doing for example.

Carolyn Thomas:

We’re like far behind breast cancer in awareness and fundraising and every other metric that you could choose. So number one would be educate yourself. And the other thing that I always tell women who say what they want to know am I at risk, like am I at risk because my grandmother died of a heart attack. And one time I had this little twinge and blah, blah, blah, am I at risk? And I said, why don’t you act as if we are all at very high risk of having a heart attack, because there is no downside in living your life exactly as if that was true.

Carolyn Thomas:

Now, I don’t know if it’s true for you, but there’s no downside in eating healthy. And that includes small things like eating less salt. They used to say, you can’t eat fat or you can’t eat eggs. And almost all of those have now been changed, you can eat good fats. You can eat eggs every once a day now is the current cardiology recommendation. So do what you need to do in terms of exercise every day, and sleep, get a good night’s sleep. And I know you’ve talked a lot about that as well on your own site. These are the things that keep not only our hearts healthy, but every cell of our body.

Carolyn Thomas:

So let’s think, what can I do that it isn’t just going to be a drug that’s going to affect my heart. Although it’s very important that you take those drugs if that’s what your doctor has recommended for you. But why not something that’s going to be good for every cell of your body not just your heart?

Jim Donovan:

Yeah, like what you’re talking about some mindset change.

Carolyn Thomas:

Totally. Yeah. Completely.

Jim Donovan:

That’s a big one.

Carolyn Thomas:

However, we know that that’s really tough to do until it happens to you because up until then women especially are much more prone to think that this will never happen to me. So even if they read, even if accidentally land on my blog and they read an article about women and heart disease, they really won’t believe that it applies to them unless somebody they know has had a cardiac event or their mom has had a heart cardiac event. And then suddenly they think, Holy moly, this could apply to me and my family. So it’s kind of like, COVID, there’s a real parallel here I see between people who are in denial that a bad thing will ever happen to them. It just happens to other people.

Carolyn Thomas:

So in COVID we see people going out and making decisions that are very poor in terms of social distancing and preventing the disease, and in heart disease, we see exactly the same thing. People are not good at preventing the disease in the first place, as much as they are when it hits them. And they’ve got the diagnosis and their whole world has suddenly been turned upside down.

Jim Donovan:

Yeah. It seems like we humans have this little design flaw and unless we’re shaken by the shoulders and like life turns upside down somehow that we’re like, ah, can’t be that bad.

Carolyn Thomas:

It’s true. And its human nature, and denial is very common in every catastrophic diagnosis.

Jim Donovan:

It does make sense, yeah.

Carolyn Thomas:

It makes sense. And partly it helps you because it’s so overwhelming sometime that you couldn’t bear to absorb the whole thing. So sometimes you have this little protective denial that you can get a little bit of it and then the next day you’ll get a little bit more, and the next day, a little bit more. But denial is what protects us, but it also is what can kill us. So I have many, many of my blog readers for example, have been in such denial during their symptoms that they almost died. And first, I’ll tell you a funny story. Well, it’s not funny because she almost died.

Carolyn Thomas:

But this one of my readers, it was Christmas Eve and she was preparing her big Christmas day dinner. The next day she was having 12 people over to the house for dinner. And she started having very severe symptoms. They were like mine, they were textbook symptoms. So no doubt in her mind, these could be hard, but she had 12 people coming for dinner the next day. There was no way she was going to go to the hospital. So she just kept doing it until her son on Christmas morning finally insisted mom, I’m calling 911 for you.

Carolyn Thomas:

And even though she said, “No, no, no, it’s okay. I’m just about to put the turkey in the oven.” She finally let him do that. And it turned out she had an extremely severe heart attack and was in the hospital for many weeks, so that kind of denial can kill you. So that’s where that question is, what would you do if these symptoms were happening to somebody else that I care about? I don’t think you’d be saying, “Just hang on, got to put the turkey in the oven. Be ready …”

Jim Donovan:

Got to set the table, wait a second. The floor is not clean yet, I got to get that.

Carolyn Thomas:

No. Well, I met a woman at Mayo, it was her second heart attack. And her husband, she woke up and woke up her husband and he called 911. And he’s rushing around the house, getting her coat and everything. And he couldn’t find her. And the ambulance is here. So he finally found her in the bathroom, she was shaving her legs. And she said, “I can’t go to emergency room with my hairy legs like this.” Women are so funny.

Jim Donovan:

I’m not laughing at anybody because I do dumb things like that too. And wow. Yeah. But when we’re in that mode and like our minds are racing, it’s like, what’s the thing that’s going to make me comfortable. I want to feel good about my legs right now. Hey, I have one more question for you. Go ahead, I’m sorry.

Carolyn Thomas:

No, I was going to say it’s another little piece of denial, right?

Jim Donovan:

A little piece of denial.

Carolyn Thomas:

Of course, shave my legs and take a shower. Maybe it won’t be happening when I finish.

Jim Donovan:

Yeah. Maybe this is just a bad dream. Yeah. I’ve done things exactly like that. I can empathize. So in your own like rehabilitation, or even in your research, have you come across anything about how music helps people with any kind of heart health?

Carolyn Thomas:

I know that there’s a music therapy program that is available at hospitals, for example. And I don’t know of one, I’m sure my readers, when they watch this will fill me in, if there’s a hospital near them, that has it. It’s a huge opportunity for you, Jim. There’s a big wide open pool of very frightened, very depressed, very overwhelmed heart patients walking around who would love to put into use what you are teaching with your rhythm and health program.

Jim Donovan:

Absolutely. Well, what I can say, just to any of your folks that are watching this. If you go to donovanhealth.com and you click on the articles button, you’ll see a little tab that says heart on it, and you can see all the research that I’ve done and pulled together from all the different peer reviewed sources of ways that you can use music, like right now to help you with things like lowering blood pressure, keeping your stress levels down, keeping your cortisol levels down, all that stuff. It’s natural. I’m not saying that we’re not replacing your meds, but we’re doing something that can be a really feel good add on that actually makes a real noticeable and measurable difference.

Carolyn Thomas:

Yes. And I love that when I saw that on your blog. And the one about the drumming, the two minutes of the … what do you call that, the stopwatch?

Jim Donovan:

Brain tapping.

Carolyn Thomas:

Yeah, the stopwatch thing, love that I’m going to do that myself, even if I’m just stuck in rush hour traffic and feeling running late and feeling stressed, that’s something that’s so simple. It doesn’t cost anything. Non-Drug. Non-invasive. You can do it anywhere. I can teach it to my five-year-old grandchild and she will love this. So thank you for that.

Jim Donovan:

Absolutely. You can even teach it at your talks.

Carolyn Thomas:

Yes.

Jim Donovan:

Anything that you see there just teach it and show it to people. That’s the mission. Get it out there.

Carolyn Thomas:

Great idea.

Jim Donovan:

Absolutely. Carolyn, thank you for taking the time to do. This has been fantastic. Maybe we can talk again sometime.

Carolyn Thomas:

Love to.

Jim Donovan:

I love to continue the conversation. Can you tell us the best place for people to land on your blog? What is the url for that?

Carolyn Thomas:

It’s a www.myheartsisters.org, O-R-G. And my book. Let’s put a plug into that.

Jim Donovan:

Oh, yes please, yeah.

Carolyn Thomas:

It’s A Woman’s Guide To Living With Heart Disease. It’s published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

Jim Donovan:

Good for you. Good, good, good stuff. Keep up the great work that you’re doing. I’m hoping all this fire stuff calms down and you get a whole bunch of rain and the air clears up. And I can’t wait till we get to talk again. And yeah, thanks again and we’ll see you next time.

Carolyn Thomas:

Thanks Jim. Take care and stay safe.

Jim Donovan:

Well, that’s it for today. I appreciate you tuning in. Remember to come see us on our social media channels on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Just search Jim Donovan Sound Health.

 
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