Heart Hero Awards: ‘Medical Feminist’ Nurse Fights for Women’s Health

The “medical feminist” nurse who advocates for women's heart health __ Helen

Helen Eftekhari, 56, qualified as a nurse almost 30 years ago in 1993 (Image: British Heart Foundation)

A nurse has spoken humbly of her commitment to making a difference in the lives of women battling a potentially debilitating heart condition.

Helen Eftekhari, who lives in Coventry in the West Midlands, graduated as a nurse almost 30 years ago in 1993 and four years later began specializing in heart health.

“I became a cardiac rehabilitation nurse — I look after people who have had heart attacks and heart surgery,” said the 56-year-old.

“It’s called assisted self-management, and it’s basically helping people understand their conditions and take care of themselves.”

This included discussing an exercise program, counseling and advice on adjusting life after surgery or a heart attack.

Helen then became an Arrhythmia Nurse in 2009, supporting people with cardiac arrhythmias including conditions such as Brugada, Long QT and people with implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) devices.

Then, eight years ago, she and a colleague developed an interest in a particular condition called Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS) and helped set up a new clinic for it.

According to the NHS, PoTS is not a traditional heart condition like heart disease or heart failure – it’s an abnormal increase in heart rate that occurs in patients sitting or standing.

The “medical feminist” nurse who advocates for women's heart health __ Helen

Helen said her work made her a “medical feminist” (Image: British Heart Foundation)

It affects a range of people but is most common in girls and women between the ages of 15 and 50.

Helen explained: “There’s a range of symptoms like dizziness, tachycardia, excessive tiredness and ‘brain fog’ – and just getting up to make a cup of tea can make you feel like you’ve just run a marathon.”

She said she wanted to raise awareness and help women with the condition “because they have their lives ahead of them.”

It is already known that there is a “heart attack gender gap” which means that women are treated less well and have a higher mortality rate.

This can be for several reasons, including that women have more difficult symptoms than men and are more easily misdiagnosed.

Previous research by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) found that women are 50% more likely to be misdiagnosed than men.

Helen, who works at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, said: “Historically, PoTS would probably have been diagnosed as a ‘hysterical woman’.


How to tell if you’re having a heart attack

According to the NHS website, symptoms of a heart attack can include:

  • Chest pain: a feeling of pressure, tightness, or squeezing in the center of your chest
  • Pain in other parts of the body: It can feel like the pain is moving from the chest to the arms (usually the left arm, but it can be both), jaw, neck, back, and abdomen
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Sweat
  • shortness of breath
  • Feeling sick or being sick
  • An overwhelming feeling of anxiety, similar to a panic attack
  • coughing or wheezing

Some people may experience only mild pain, similar to that of indigestion. Women and elderly patients occasionally feel no pain at all.

If you think you’re having a heart attack, you should always call 999 right away.

She was put on the heart transplant list, but doctors struggled to find a match for her due to her age and size.

“Syndromes like PoTs along with conditions like ME, polycystic ovaries and endometriosis have rarely been misunderstood in the past.

“I get really passionate that these young women deserve better than they have in life.”

Referring to clinician Sarah Hillman’s Ted talk on the life of a medical feminist, Helen added, “I think I’m actually becoming a medical feminist now, although I didn’t start out as one.”

She helps diagnose PoTS by performing an “active standing test” — which takes about 15 minutes by checking heart rate and blood pressure before and after standing — and helps suggest treatment, which may include increasing fluid and blood pressure includes salt intake.

Helen was recently awarded a Nursing Scholarship by the BHF to pursue a PhD four days a week with a focus on Self Management and a focus on PoTS. She hopes the results of her research will be published in a medical journal.

“There is no research to suggest why PoTS affects more women than men,” Helen said, adding that it is currently unclear how many people across the country are currently affected by the disease.

“But in clinical practice, it is assumed that 80% of those diagnosed are women.

“It’s probably a lot better now, but there was a 2014 survey that estimated it can take seven years from symptom onset to diagnosis in the UK. Imagine what can happen in your life at this time?’

General view of Coventry University Hospital. Research led by Professor Dimitris Grammatopolous, Professor of Molecular Medicine and Consultant in Clinical Biochemistry and Molecular Diagnostics at the University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire, has shown that genetic variation can mean that women are up to five times more likely to develop postnatal depression Suffer.

Helen works at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust (Image: PA)

She said giving young women confirmation of a diagnosis is “hugely important to them.”

“A lot of them can’t continue in school, they fall way behind the experiences of their friends of a similar age and it affects their family relationships because sometimes if the doctors don’t understand, their families don’t understand either,” Helen added added.

She has now been nominated by a patient in the Healthcare Hero category at the BHF Heart Hero Awards, which Metro.co.uk is this year’s media partner.

Helen, who is set to attend the awards this week with her son, who is currently studying for a Masters in London, said: “When I first found out I had been nominated I felt a bit uncomfortable attending an awards ceremony .

“But then I figured if one of my patients had taken the time to nominate me, I could at least use this as an opportunity to raise awareness about PoTS.”

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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The British Heart Foundation Heart Hero Awards 2022

A BHF Heart Hero, with Metro.co.uk as media partner this year, can be anyone, from a healthcare professional doing exceptional work, to a young person with heart disease who has shown incredible courage and determination, to a inspirational fundraiser who has found creative ways to fund research.

Those shortlisted will be invited to an awards ceremony hosted by Vernon Kay at Glaziers Hall in London on December 1, where the winners will be announced.

You can register to watch the evening’s celebration online via a live stream starting at 8 p.m. Guest stars will announce some of the winners.

The judging of the categories is now complete, with Scottish footballer Scott Allan and TV and radio presenter Will Njobvu among this year’s celebrity judges.

But the Young Heart Hero and CPR Hero categories remain open for nominations throughout the year.

The awards raise awareness of the continued need for funding for the groundbreaking research that is turning science fiction into reality and bringing hope to more than seven million people in the UK living with cardiovascular problems.

To learn more about the categories or to nominate, visit the British Heart Foundation website.

https://metro.co.uk/2022/11/27/heart-hero-awards-medical-feminist-nurse-fights-for-womens-health-17819876/ Heart Hero Awards: 'Medical Feminist' Nurse Fights for Women's Health

Justin Scacco

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