Women and Heart Disease

06/24/2015 09:36 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2016

My single symptom -- the one odd, repeated, symptom that drove me to call my cardiologist and saved my life? Fatigue.

Sudden-onset unusual fatigue, fatigue so severe that after half a block's walk at my normal speed I thought I would fall down if I didn't lean against a building. Indeed, each red light at each crossing represented a gift, since I could rest for those few moments. It didn't feel like shortness of breath -- the symptom my cardiologist kept asking me about. Along with the fatigue was dry mouth so sudden and complete that I couldn't get any saliva. But that was all. No shortness of breath that I could identify per se. No pain, no dizziness, no pounding heart.

Look for pressure or pain in your chest, but don't be reassured when it's not there or when you check to see whether there are pains in your arm or jaw there aren't any. I didn't have these symptoms either but, when I finally went for an echo stress test, the results indicated serious blockage in a coronary artery.

The suggested and undertaken cardiac catheterization proved that no single stent would be effective. (In fact, I was informed that I would need too many stents to fix the problem.) No, I would need immediate coronary bypass surgery. Immediate, that is, with one caveat. I would have to wait five days for the Plavix that had been used for the procedure to remove itself from my body, to guard against excessive bleeding during surgery. I was subsequently told that my blockage was so dangerous that I would have to remain in the hospital awaiting my bypass, lest I have a major heart attack at home.

Now I realize that I had been rationalizing symptoms for quite a long time -- surely over a year or maybe even two. Yes, I was tired after climbing a flight of stairs where I hadn't been before. Yes I was too tired to make evening plans or, if I did have some plans, I wished I hadn't. I'm past 80 and shouldn't I be slowing down? Shouldn't I be too tired to want to go out in the evening after working a long day? Shouldn't it be more tiring to climb a flight of stairs than it used to be -- or even feel a bit light-headed after sitting through a show and suddenly getting up to leave? Perhaps so, perhaps not. In my case, not.

Because now, only seven weeks post surgery, when I climb the same stairs, I'm not tired. When I have plans for the evening, I'm eager to go out and I enjoy myself when I do. Slowing down? No. Now post 80 feels without a particular age. Am I amazed? Absolutely. And so very grateful that I followed the advice I would have given to a good friend.

If something doesn't feel right, trust yourself and call your doctor. We women often don't present with heart disease as men do.

And it kills more of us than any other disease.

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