(NEW YORK) — Megan Corbin has been a dancer since the age of 5, performing professionally in musicals and in a Las Vegas show until right before the coronavirus pandemic.
Considering she was young, active and healthy, Corbin said she had no idea that the pain and pressure she felt in her back just a few months later, in July 2020, was a heart attack.
Instead, Corbin, who was 30 at the time, said she thought she was having gastrointestinal issues and waited for the pain to go away.
It was not until she woke up in the middle of the night with excruciating pain and then soon after felt her arms go numb, that she said her husband was able to convince her to seek medical help.
“He literally had to scoop me up off the bathroom floor,” Corbin told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “I was limp. I couldn’t do anything.”
Corbin’s husband drove her to the hospital, where she said she was whisked away for evaluation and then told she was having a heart attack.
Corbin said she was at first relieved to have a diagnosis and to have it not be COVID-19, which was still relatively new at the time. That relief soon turned to shock, according to Corbin.
“Prior to the heart attack, I was very active,” said Corbin, who was teaching online fitness classes at the time. “It was not on my radar at all. I had no idea that something like this would happen to me.”
Corbin, now 31, is not alone, data shows. Only about half of women know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, causing around one in every five female deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Among women 20 years and older, nearly 45% are living with some form of cardiovascular disease, which is also the leading cause of maternal death in the U.S., according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
In Corbin’s case, it was only after her heart attack that she discovered she had high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure, two warning signs of heart disease.
Her heart attack was caused by a blockage in one of the main arteries to her heart.
Once she was diagnosed, Corbin was flown from Crescent City, California to a Medford, Oregon, hospital with a more specialized cardiac unit. She underwent surgery so doctors could place a stent in the blocked artery to improve the blood flow.
Corbin was hospitalized for 10 days and then returned to California, where she spent the next several months recovering.
She opened her own dance studio in the fall of 2020, and said she preaches to her dance students what she has learned from her own heart attack experience, to listen to their bodies.
“I personally did not go [to the hospital] because I thought I would be turned away because I was so young and the only complaint that I had at the time was pressure in my back,” Corbin said. “I like to tell my story so that people my age and younger can be aware to look for certain signs and symptoms.”
“When you feel something, say something. Speak up and don’t feel like you won’t be heard,” she said. “Listen to your body because no one knows your body like you do.”
In women, symptoms of heart disease can include things like nausea, vomiting, fatigue, pain in the neck, jaw or throat and pain in the upper abdomen or back, in addition to chest pain, according to the CDC.
Corbin, who is featured in the AHA’s “Real Women” campaign, said she hopes women in particular learn from her experience and take time to learn about their heart health and know numbers like their cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
“Just don’t downplay your symptoms because it might be more serious than you think,” she said. “Especially as women, we tend to go, go, go. We’re superwoman. We do it all. We have to know when to step back and realize that we need a breather. We need a break.”
Five lifestyle changes that can help prevent heart disease in women
1. Weight management: Shedding off extra fat and unnecessary pounds will help reduce the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels and skeleton, according to the AHA.
2. Not smoking: Smoking cigarettes is linked to a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease, according to the AHA. The best thing you can do for your health is to quit.
3. Reducing stress: Stress can affect some of the factors linked to an increased heart disease risk, according to the AHA, including high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
4. Being active: Daily physical activity and an active lifestyle can help increase the length, and quality of your life, the AHA states on their website.
5. Knowing your health numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.): It is important that women schedule annual physicals to check their health numbers. As high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, and high cholesterol can contribute to plaque (which can lead to clogged arteries), being aware of your numbers is an important step to take when it comes to owning your heart health. A systolic blood pressure of less than 120 and a diastolic blood pressure of less than 80 is considered normal by the AHA.
When it comes to cholesterol, a total cholesterol of less than 200 mg/dL is considered desirable, including less than 100 mg/dL of LDL and 60 mg/dL or more of HDL, according to the CDC. The recommendations for when to check cholesterol are once every five years after the age of 20, and more frequently if you have a medical condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity.
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