Glenda Sexauer (59), was diagnosed with heart failure When she was 46. But, it took nearly a year—all while her heart health was steadily declining—for doctors to realize what was wrong.
She had several symptoms, including relentless fatigue, bloating, nausea, and weight gain she couldn’t explain. Her doctor initially diagnosed her with an autoimmune condition and pneumonia. She was then referred to a cardiologist. She was hospitalized for several months and received a pacemaker, defibrillator and other medical treatment. Her road to recovery took several years—she still takes multiple medications each day and relies on her pacemaker—but she credits her active lifestyle for getting her through it all.
Heart failure affects about 3.6 million women in the United States—but there is a huge disparity in research between men and women with heart failure. Nearly half of heart failure patients admitted to hospital are women.1However, heart failure studies are only done by 25% of women.2
Sexauer was inspired to become a community educator after her experiences. WomenHearta non-profit organization which educates women with heart disease about the Signs of heart failure. Here’s her story, as told to writer Erica Sweeney.
I’ve always been active. I exercised often, ran marathons, once did a 150-mile bike ride that lasted two days. But, when I was 46, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling like myself anymore. I had gained some weight, and was always tired. I felt bloated and tired, and I slept a lot. I just knew something wasn’t right. My symptoms suggested that I might be experiencing menopause. However, my hormone testing proved me wrong. My symptoms were then online researched and I thought it might have been my thyroid acting up. My doctor diagnosed me with the autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition that can cause symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, and muscle weakness. I thought, “OK, that’s what it is.”
I continued feeling tired all the time, though, despite taking medication for Hashimoto’s. I also had a lot of things going on in that time. My son was in college, and my mother-in law was still living with us. I was a vice president in a financial services firm. My mom was also really sick; she had Alzheimer’s and was nearing the final phase of her life. So I thought maybe it was anxiety.
Then I noticed a strange sensation in the middle of my chest when I lay down. It was almost as if my heart was gurgling. I had to wake up several nights to go to sleep. Something else caused me to pause after the death of my mother. I was at her funeral when I coughed up some stuff that didn’t look right. I went to see my primary care physician and said that I believed I had pneumonia. He diagnosed me with a small amount of fluid in my lungs, and prescribed me medication. I never had a fever, which, looking back now, was a big hint that I didn’t have pneumonia. Nobody ever suspected that I had heart disease.
Finally, I was given a diagnosis of heart failure.
My husband and me planned a trip to Hawaii to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We decided to go, even though I wasn’t feeling great. I couldn’t eat much and felt nauseated. I fell asleep after we arrived. So much. After only two steps up, I had no choice but to sit down and rest. We had all these activities planned and had to keep canceling because I just couldn’t do them—and that’s not like me. I filled in all my symptoms online for a health checker and it confirmed that I had a heart condition. We laughed at the time because I was actually quite healthy.