One day while leaving work, Eve Walker felt extremely tired. She tried coffee and candy for a boost, but nothing seemed to work. Her legs “felt like tree trunks” as she walked to her car. She was so winded and pained walking upstairs that she opted to leave her three-level home and stay at her mom’s house. While there, she “popped aspirin like candy,” but didn’t seek medical help.
Two days later, she felt what she thought was a mosquito bite on her leg, followed by a tingling that traveled up the left side of her body. A neighbor took her to the hospital where testing revealed she’d suffered a heart attack. She was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thickening of the heart muscle.
Doctors prescribed medication and cautioned Walker to modify her life and limit her activities, yet she the made a decision to live her life to the fullest. She returned to school and followed her passions while performing as a comedic actress.
Although Walker was aware of her mother’s and grandmother’s heart issues, it wasn’t until a few years after her own cardiac event that she recognized the extent of her family’s history of heart disease. Walker had been 12 when her sister died suddenly at 16. The family was so overcome with grief that she never realized was due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy until she reviewed the death certificate 25 years later.
“There’s a stigma with having any kind of heart or health issue,” she said. “It’s important to talk about it because when it comes to your health, what you don’t know can kill you.”
For years, Walker managed her condition with medication and mild exercise but avoided anything strenuous out of fear of another heart attack. She experienced sporadic bouts of chest pain and palpitations and decided to get a stress test in preparation for elective surgery at 41. During that time, tests revealed weakness in her heart that called for a change in medication and an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, which shocks the heart if needed.
While Walker’s heart disease couldn’t have been prevented, she could have known more about her risks by investigating her family history or the symptoms of heart disease.
“I had to break the cycle of not talking about it,” she said. “If you think something is wrong, get it checked out and don’t ignore the symptoms.”
She adds, “I have heart disease, but it doesn’t have me!”
Symptoms of a heart attack:
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
- Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheaded.
As with men, the most common heart attack symptom in women is chest pain or discomfort. It’s important to note that women are more likely to experience other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
What to do during a heart attack:
- If you experience any of these signs or symptoms:
- Do not wait to call for help. Dial 9-1-1, make sure to follow the operator’s instructions and get to a hospital right away.
- Do not drive yourself or have someone drive you to the hospital unless you have no other choice.
- Try to stay as calm as possible and take deep, slow breaths while you wait for the emergency responders.
Why it’s important to know the symptoms of a heart attack:
Women who consider themselves healthy often misdiagnose the symptoms of a heart attack because they don’t think it could happen to them. That is why it’s crucial to learn about heart disease and stroke, know your numbers, live a heart-healthy lifestyle and be aware of the risk factors of heart disease.