By Mark Hallum
When it comes to women suffering from heart disease, the common warning signs are different from what men are taught to look for.
Northwell Heath hosted an event observing “National Wear Red Day,” which raises awareness of women’s risk for heart disease last Friday. Charlotte Balsam, 76, of North Shore Towers, survived her ordeal with the condition and was the guest of honor at the event with remarks from Alessandro Bellucci, North Shore University Hospital’s executive director; Stacey Rosen of the Katz Institute for Women’s Health; and Sonia Henry, the medical director at the Dept. of Cardiology at Northshore.
Balsam’s nightmare began in 2016 with stomach pains and shortness of breath.
“My symptoms were vague,” Balsam said. “However, there is a history of heart disease in my family. It’s all on the male side, so I though that heart disease didn’t apply to me.”
Doctors from North Shore worked diligently to understand her symptoms and during surgery found an artery that was 90 percent blocked.
“The stent saved me from an eventual heart attack,” she said. “I kept hearing how lucky I was that I did not have a heart attack, and that only made me more anxious. I had two panic attacks after that and I did end up in the ER. I guess I needed the reassurance that everything would be OK.”
Balsam went to a support group to manage the fallout from her ordeal where she began learning that everyone experiences heart disease differently.
“I met a wonderful group of women,” she said. “We share stories, we share our experiences, and what I found was that no two stories are the same. Everybody experiences heart disease differently.”
Ten months after her first surgery, Balsam began experiencing stomach pains again. Another artery was found 100 percent blocked.
Doctors performed an angioplasty and she stayed the night in the hospital. Her symptoms have not returned, Balsam said, and she is back to living a healthy, active life.
Henry spoke about Balsam’s medical history of irritable bowl syndrome and the family history of heart disease and decided that she had passed off her heart symptoms in the early stages as IBS.
“It’s often mistaken for other conditions,” Henry said. “Some women don’t get that classic chest pain and pressure that we typically see on TV. Unfortunately, some of these symptoms go ignored.”
Some of the things to look for are extreme fatigue, back pain, shoulder pain, abdominal pain, bloating and nausea.
“The key is to trust your gut. If you see something new going on, it probably is something new,” Henry said.
According to Rosen, stroke has dropped to fourth or fifth leading cause of death among men, but remains at the third leading cause of death for women.
Balsam is a retired New York City high school teacher and a grandmother of six.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall