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Rowena’s Story – Coronary artery disease and elevated Lipoprotein (a)

In March 2021 I was diagnosed via a coronary calcium CT scan to have an atherosclerotic disease process taking place in one of the major vessels of my heart. Given my age at diagnosis (only 43 years old at that time), this was quite a shock for me as I was informed by my cardiologist that I was at very high risk for future cardiac episodes and required medical management to lower this risk. I was also calculated to have the arterial age of a 67-year-old person at that time. Upon learning this diagnosis, I felt quite helpless and became anxious about my health and the future.

More recently, I was also diagnosed with an elevated Lipoprotein (a), which is a genetic and relatively common condition and is a shown to be a strong independent risk factor for heart disease, increasing the likelihood of having a heart attack, stroke, and aortic valve stenosis. According to current research, elevated Lipoprotein (a) increases the risk of coronary artery disease 2-4-fold, increasing susceptibility in the development of atherosclerosis (plaque) in the coronary arteries, clotting and inflammation (a triple whammy). Lipoprotein (a) levels are assessed via a simple blood test.

My take home message is that it is very important to understand your family medical history, such as family history of heart attack and/or stroke, and to have a conversation and heart check-ups with your medical provider, even if you feel that you are healthy and fit. Before my diagnosis, I had no idea that I was walking around with a heart condition. I’ve always felt fit and healthy, led a healthy lifestyle, never smoked, and I exercise regularly. However, I do have a strong family history of heart disease, with the more recent sudden death of my father to coronary artery disease prompting me to become more proactive and investigate my heart health further. I now have an aggressive management plan in place with my cardiologist and am extremely grateful that my diagnosis was discovered earlier, and not later down the track when it may have been too late, as was unfortunately the case with my father. Knowledge is power, and I believe that taking control of your heart health and knowing your risks are an important step for your wellbeing and health outcomes.
I love spending time hiking and in nature and have done so pretty much my whole life thanks to my upbringing in the bush. For me, I love nature’s smells, sights and sounds, and my hiking creates a sense of calm, and allows for reflection. I think more recently though, my reasons for spending time hiking and being in nature have extended a little. I hike for the love of it (as always), and now additionally to promote the health of my heart.

Thank you for taking the time to read about my personal experience. My aim is to create awareness around heart health checks, family history/genetics and the importance of having these conversations and assessments with your medical provider.

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