We’re constantly hearing about how heart disease is the nation’s “number 1 killer.” Yet if I took a survey of my patients, I’m sure most of them would say they’re more worried about cancer than having a heart attack. Especially my female patients. So when the subject comes up, I take the time to point out that heart disease kills about 500,000 women each year–more than 10 times the number who die of breast cancer–and half those deaths are from heart attacks. To which I quickly add there are more effective strategies for preventing a heart attack than there are for preventing any other chronic disease.
An attack of angina, especially the first one, is a terrifying and life-changing experience. You’ve raced up the stairs or you’ve run to catch a train; suddenly an elephant is standing on your chest or a huge hand is squeezing your heart. Then you’re sweaty, lightheaded, and nauseated. You stop in your tracks; you wait; you pray you’re not having a heart attack. At last the elephant lifts his foot or the fist opens, the world slowly brightens, and slowly, carefully, you go home. (You really SHOULD go to an emergency room.)