Vermont nurse raises awareness of women's heart health

Published: Feb. 19, 2020 at 12:28 PM EST
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Many people consider heart disease more of a problem for men, but in reality it's the most common cause of death for both sexes in the United States. Cat Viglienzoni shows us how a central Vermont nurse is trying to raise awareness after a scare in her own family.

"There's a general lack of awareness among women about how heart disease can look differently," said Melissa Beaudry, a cardiology nurse practitioner at Central Vermont Medical Center. For her, heart health is a big deal, especially for women.

"Women need to realize that heart disease is the number one killer of women in this country," Beaudry said.

Her family knows how dangerous it can be when women don't realize they're having a heart attack.

"It was in September of 2015," said Lori Suhr, Beaudry's mom. The Kansas City woman says she is lucky to be alive. "I seriously thought I had the flu."

Suhr says she couldn't even imagine that her symptoms were a heart attack, despite her daughter's warning. She tried to tough it out for 13 hours before finally going to the hospital. "I had nothing that you would have ever thought would have been a heart attack," Suhr said. "I came to find out that I was having a massive heart attack... I had laid there so long there was a big potential that I wouldn't have made it."

She didn't have any permanent damage, but has had two heart attacks since. She caught those quickly by watching for these symptoms:

• Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort

• Shortness of breath

• Pain in one or both arms

• Nausea or vomiting

• Sweating

• Lightheadedness or dizziness

• Unusual fatigue

• Indigestion

"It's nothing like you think it's going to be. I mean it really -- I would have had no inclination that it was heart problems," Suhr said.

"Patients will think, 'Oh, this can't be happening to me,' and try to explain their symptoms in some other way," Beaudry said.

She says one in five women has heart disease and she wants to make sure they take their symptoms seriously and don't wait. "Time is tissue, so you run the risk of permanent heart damage and long-term heart failure," Beaudry said.

She says one of the other challenges is that women are often underrepresented in studies about heart health and that makes it difficult to determine whether their treatments and men's treatments should be the same.