She now exercises three days a week as part of the monitored exercise program at McDowell Wellness Center, and is thankful that she sought treatment for the pain she was experiencing.
"I almost died," Richardson said. "I was having a really bad heart attack."
Doesn't just affect men
Heart disease is not just a disease that affects men, as Richardson's experience shows. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women over the age of 25, claiming nearly twice as many women's lives as all forms of cancer. In fact, one in 2.5 women will die of heart disease or stroke, compared with one in 30 from breast cancer.
"Heart disease is definitely something that all women need to be aware of," said Shelly Selby, director of cardiopulmonary services at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center.
"Women tend to develop heart disease later in life, but die more often than men as a result of heart disease."
Selby noted that a heart attack often causes different symptoms in women than it does in men, as it was in Richardson's case.
"Women may have pain that they do not readily associate with their heart, such as back, breast or even right arm pain. Women may not have pain at all; instead, they may experience abdominal symptoms or sweat more than normal or be more tired than usual," Selby said, noting that other symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and unusual fatigue.
Individuals who experience symptoms of a heart attack should seek medical attention immediately by calling 911 for an ambulance to transport them to the nearest medical facility. They should never attempt to drive themselves to a hospital. Although that option seems faster, in reality it is not. Driving oneself to the hospital or even being driven by someone else can cause a delay in needed treatment, Selby said.
Electronic EKG transfer on the wish list
"EMS personnel are trained to deliver specialized heart care," she said, noting that the local EMS has the capability to perform 12-lead EKGs, which is essential in the diagnosis of an acute heart attack. "Having the EKG already done when a patient gets to the hospital saves precious time."
Selby is currently working with the local EMS to find funds to equip their trucks to be able to electronically send EKG reports so the Emergency Department physicians and staff know before patients arrive what to expect. This capability will further decrease treatment delays and optimize outcomes for patients.
"Time is critical when an individual is experiencing a heart attack," Selby said. "When someone is having a heart attack, blood flow to the heart is blocked and damage occurs when treatment is delayed. Patients will have better outcomes if they seek treatment immediately when they suspect they may be having a heart attack."
Selby encourages all women to have their blood pressure checked annually. Women age 45 and older should also have their blood cholesterol and blood sugar checked every year or earlier if they have a family history of heart disease.
Tips to reduce risk
Individuals can reduce their risk for cardiovascular diseases by following these other heart healthy tips:
* Don't smoke cigarettes. If you smoke, you double your risk of having a heart attack.
* If you have high blood pressure, keep it under control. Follow a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol. Your fat intake should not exceed 30 percent of the total calories you consume daily.
* Exercise a minimum of 30 minutes on most, if not all, days of the week.
* Control your weight, as excess body fat increases your risk of heart disease.
Maleena Streeval works with the community relations department of Ephraim McDowell Health.