Listen to Your Heart
By Amie Mangola
I'll never forget the terrifying moment I thought I was having a heart attack.
At 35, my lifelong love of country music had taken me to Nashville as a singer/songwriter, then back home to Southern California, and the Go Country 105 studio. I was about 5 months into my gig on the morning show when I started feeling tightness in my chest and a little short of breath every so often.
One night, I couldn't even manage a deep breath and headed straight for the emergency room of my local community hospital. After 3 days in the hospital and many tests, all my results were "normal." I left with beta blockers and a follow-up appointment I never got to keep.
A week later in the studio, headphones on, I felt pain rip through my chest and jaw. My left arm ached like never before! I grabbed my purse and left work immediately. This time, doctors ordered an emergency angiogram.
The good news? No heart attack. The bad news? No one knew what was wrong.
With so many doctors scratching their heads at me—a fairly fit, fairly young woman—I began to worry they might think my symptoms were in my imagination. It's all too common for women's pain and health concerns to be dismissed. Much to my relief, just the opposite happened.
Not one person taking care of me told me I'm too young to have heart disease. Instead, my doctor said he wanted me to see someone who specializes in women's heart disease, Noel Bairey Merz, MD, at the Cedars-Sinai Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center.
I'd learned about her in my own research online. I also turned up some facts that surprised me. Heart disease is more common in women than I thought. In fact, it's the number one killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths.
Dr. Bairey Merz combed through my thick file of test results with fresh eyes. She zeroed in on tests pointing to my veins not dilating well enough, a condition called coronary vasospasm. I got a few prescriptions, but none that needed to be taken to the pharmacy: Do daily cardio to train my blood vessels to open properly, get a good night's rest, and change what I eat.
So far, these changes are making a difference. I'm paying more attention to my choices every day. My heart health comes first when I order a meal. And I make the time to exercise. Dr. Bairey Merz wants to see me once a year to keep an eye on my heart.
Here's what I learned:
Listen to your body
When my symptoms started, I could've blamed the stress of starting a new job or the lack of sleep that comes with getting up at 3 a.m. for work. When the tests didn't turn up answers, I was tempted to brush off my worries. I'm sure glad I kept seeking answers. Now I know what to look out for and what I can do to feel better.
Find a doctor who listens, and take their advice
I was lucky to have really great doctors who took my concerns seriously and never implied I was exaggerating. They ran tests and got me to a specialist who figured out my issue. I don't think all women have that experience. If you have a doctor who doesn't seem to take your concerns seriously or doesn't listen to you, it's time to find another doctor.
Change your diet by adding, not subtracting
I'm an Italian girl, and we love our meatballs. It's easier to pass on them by focusing on what I can add. I'm adding more fish, vegetables, fruits, beans and nuts.
Make working out work for you
Hitting the gym is not my thing. I'd rather plug in my earbuds, turn up the music I love, and head outside. I walk 30 minutes a day and lift light weights. That's all it's taken to make a difference in how I feel.
Measure your results
I get my blood tested every three months and check my cholesterol so I know what my heart is dealing with. Just a few simple changes really brought my cholesterol down. With zero medication!