Each February the American Heart Association (AHA) asks for the public’s support to participate in American Heart Month. According to the AHA, “cardiovascular diseases kill nearly 1 in 3 women each year, killing approximately one woman every 80 seconds.
Wow-o-wow, what scary figures — especially to a 60+ woman like me who has been fighting high cholesterol and is allergic to statins. While my new Praluent shots are working to lower my LDL, I’m constantly aware that I need to play an active role in maintaining my health. Thankfully, the team at AHA says we can change these numbers because a majority of cardiac and stroke events may be prevented with education and action.
To provide tips to help women manage their health, I turned to researcher Susan Salenger. As a 79 year old female advocate, Susan is the author of soon-to-be-released SIDELINED: How Women Manage & Mismanage Their Health. In her new book, she examines the many ways in which women manage and sometimes mismanage their healthcare. After reviewing SIDELINED, I thought Susan had wise words to share with post 50 women and was pleased when she agreed to be interviewed.
Listen to what Susan has to say. If you want to learn more, enter the giveaway below to have an opportunity to win a copy of SIDELINED once it’s published in April.
Susan, why did you write a book about women’s health and healthcare?
Susan: “I wrote the SIDELINED: How Women Manage and Mismanage Their Health out of a personal experience I had where I chose to undergo surgery that I was almost positive I didn’t need. It turned out I was right – I didn’t need it – and, as I thought about it afterward, I wondered why I had agreed to it so readily. I talked with over forty women who, much to my surprise, had also made medical decisions that they later regretted.”
What did you discover about women and their health during your research? Any surprises?
Susan: “I began researching why some women, some of the time, mismanage their health, and some of what I found surprised me. I discovered there are six basic reasons why women sometimes do their health a disservice:
THEY ARE NOT PRIORITY #1: Women put themselves (and their health) second. We’re all so busy taking care of our families that we tend to put our own health last on our to-do list.
WE WORRY TOO MUCH ABOUT BEING NICE: Women hesitate to get second opinions. We don’t want to hurt our doctor’s feelings or be rude. Plus, we may feel we don’t have the time or resources to double-check our diagnosis.
IT’S MY FAULT THAT THIS HAPPENED: My most surprising discovery was how many women feel their illness is caused by stress and their inability to manage it. They’re ashamed and believe that illness is a public acknowledgment of their difficulty managing their lives.
WOMEN TALK DIFFERENTLY TO DOCTORS THAN MEN DO: Women and men communicate differently with their doctors. Women describe their physical symptoms and also their emotional ones. They try to give doctors the full picture. Men are more succinct, more technical. They try to keep a stiff upper lip and don’t want to “act like a baby.”
The problem is that women’s communication style can sometimes lead to a psychological diagnosis rather than an organic one. So many times, even today, women are told their symptoms are “all in their head.”
WE MAY ONLY LOOK AT HALF THE PICTURE: Sometimes, some women “forget” that their illness and recovery may have emotional symptoms. We’re often so focused on getting some physical relief that we ignore the emotional side of illness.
PHARMACEUTICAL ADS TARGET WOMEN:Women make 80 percent of all healthcare purchasing decisions. So most ads are designed to appeal to women. Even though we often don’t comply with our doctor’s instructions (20 to 30 percent of all prescriptions are never filled), we’re prescribed more pills than men are.”
In what ways do women often mismanage their health?
Susan: “Another thing that surprised me was how many women keep their illness to themselves and hesitate to talk about it. Illness can be such a lonely journey. By not sharing how badly they feel with friends and families, they’re denying themselves any support. We all need each other and that is a major theme of the book.”
If you were to address a group of post 50 women, what would you encourage them to do when managing their health and healthcare?
Susan: “First and foremost: Remember that illness is often random. There are people who are stressed and get sick from it; there are people who are stressed and rarely feel ill. Many people who smoke get lung cancer; other people who smoke don’t. So if you’re one of those who blame yourself, try not to. It’s not helpful and may very well be inaccurate.
Second, please, please, if it’s at all possible, get a second opinion, particularly if your diagnosis is serious or requires invasive treatment. A diagnosis is so subjective. The same stress can be a stomach problem to a gastroenterologist, stress to a psychologist, joint pain to a rheumatologist. There are at least 20,000 diseases out there, many of which mimic the same symptoms. For a physician, a diagnosis can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Third, be healthy and keep yourself in good shape. Don’t hesitate to visit the doctor. Keep up with your tests, shots, whatever. And be sure to exercise. I just read that if you walk 10 minutes more a day than you do now, just the 10 minutes extra would save 111,000 deaths each year. I am 79 years old and I power lift. I do it to stay young.”
I know you wrote about heart disease and women’s health. What did you learn about women and heart attacks?
Susan: “Since heart attack symptoms differ between women and men, women often don’t recognize that they may be having a heart attack. As a result, they hesitate to call 911. They watch and wait to see if their symptoms disappear.
Sometimes women know they are having a heart attack, and they’re too embarrassed to bother anyone and call for help. A small Canadian study revealed that women may hesitate to do anything because they don’t want to disturb their families. One woman knew she was having a heart attack but stayed awake all night before calling for help. She didn’t want to disturb her husband, who she knew needed his rest after working a fourteen-hour day.
Women may have a 50 percent higher chance than men of receiving the wrong initial diagnosis after a heart attack. But, when it comes to heart attacks, time equals muscle. The best thing you can do for yourself is to get help within the first four hours. The longer you delay getting help, the more chance you have of serious heart damage.
And again, be sure to exercise. If possible, just take yourself on a short walk every day. If you can’t do that, think about what exercise you can do within your limitations. You could be saving your life.”
Anything else you would like to share about women and their health and healthcare?
Susan: “Women keep things inside until they deal with them. I am 79 years old, and I had my unnecessary surgery 30+ years ago. Now, with SIDELINED, I feel better knowing that other men and women can not only learn from my experience, but they can be smarter and do things differently. I hope your audience will follow me on social media and tell me their stories.”
Enter the giveaway for SIDELINED
To enter the giveaway for a copy of SIDELINED once it is published in April, leave a comment about how you are taking care of your health, especially your heart health. Or, participate via the Rafflecopter below. Note the giveaway is for USA residents only.