In the fall of my junior year of college, I got a phone call around dinner time; my mum had a heart attack. My dad reassured me that she was going to be alright, and I made arrangements to go home for awhile. While there was a certain factor of shock, somehow I knew this would eventually happen. I knew my mother had a higher risk of heart attack, just like millions of others who also live with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.
People with psoriatic disease have higher rates of coronary disease, heart attack, and strokes. I don’t state these facts to scare anyone, I state them because I think it’s necessary. We rarely discuss this risk that is, unfortunately, very real. We use statistics that make it feel distant, not something that personally affects those with psoriatic disease and their loved ones. And we especially don’t hear many witnesses in educational pamphlets and web pages on the subject, like in the cases of a daughter who nearly lost her mother. I think it’s time to change that and educate ourselves not only about what issues could arise, but also how to identify them.
TLC for the heart
For individuals with psoriatic arthritis, we often think about needing to take care of one’s joints and skin. And while those are very important, we also need to be kind to our hearts! Some of the treatments for psoriatic arthritis already care for that. Eating right, exercising, and not smoking (kudos if you are in the process of quitting – you can do it!) are things that care for all of these things. Overall, helping our level of inflammation stay down is good for the heart.
It’s also very important to talk to your doctor about your personal risk. Some people may be very low risk while others are high risk; however you won’t know until you talk to a medical professional who is familiar with your personal health history. Staying informed about your personal health and risks is one of the best ways to stay healthy, but the only one who can truly advise you on this subject is your doctor.
Signs that are easily ignored
As important as caring for yourself and knowing your personal risk of heart disease, it’s just as important to be aware of all symptoms. Despite what the TV shows us, many people who have heart attacks have symptoms other than intense chest pain. In fact, some people don’t have chest pain at all.
The day before my mum’s heart attack, we were talking on the phone. Rather than our usual hour long conversation, we only spoke for a few minutes because she was feeling under the weather and very tired. She had felt that way the day before too, but that day was even worse. She just wanted to lie in bed and rest. Before getting off the phone, I told her to be careful because women have heart attacks that mimic the cold and flu. The next day when I saw an incoming call from my dad, I realized what had happened.
Some people, especially women, don’t often feel the classic symptoms of heart attack like chest pain. They often feel nausea, tired, and other flu-like symptoms. Sometimes they may have pain in the back or jaw. These symptoms can lead them to believe they’re simply under the weather; however, they tend to be very severe and different from a normal cold or arthritis flare. And it’s critical to note that I did not list every possible symptom; I do this purposefully, in the hopes that you might call your doctor and open a discussion about your own risk of heart disease.
So take this knowledge to heart! When you know your personal risks, you may have the power to make change. As always, talk to your doctor to come up with a plan that works for you- only they can tell you your personal risk and the best way to treat your psoriatic arthritis.