You walk into your doctor's office for what you think is either a routine checkup or to address that nagging pain in your neck, jaw or back. Then it happens. "You have heart disease." The words you never, not in a million years, thought your doctor would utter.
You're not alone. You've just joined the ranks of more than 43 million American women who have heard the same diagnosis. Pause for a second and think about how massive that number is.
What does your diagnosis mean?
No matter what you call it - heart disease, cardiovascular disease, or coronary heart disease - it means there is a plaque buildup in the walls of your arteries. As the plaque builds, your arteries narrow, making it more difficult for blood to flow and creating a risk for heart attack or stroke. Women are also diagnosed with heart disease when an irregular heartbeat or heart valve problems are present.
What to do after your diagnosis
1. Drop the guilt. Women pride themselves on being able to do it all. But sometimes, you need to lean on others; and when you've been diagnosed with heart disease, that's the time to do it.
2. Realize that it's OK to feel vulnerable. Reach out to other women who share your diagnosis and start to build a personal support team. Know when you need to let go of some control and let others take care of you.
3. Join support groups. There's no reason to cope with heart disease on your own. And accept the fact that it may be difficult at times. You can connect with another woman through the Go Red For Women heart match program. Share your story, then find someone like you. Connect online.
4. Believe in yourself. Yes, the diagnosis is going to create feelings of depression, anger and fear. But it's important to process those feelings and then get past them.
5. Make a pledge to Go Red and spread the word about heart health. When awareness in women increases they are in a better position to spot symptoms and go to their doctors before it's too late.