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On the physical level

We always associate chest pain with heart attacks and for good reason, but it’s not the whole story – especially for women. While chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack, women can have symptoms that aren’t related to chest pain at all. They need to be on the lookout for other, subtler symptoms.

Also, we need to dig deeper into the symptom of chest pain for both men and women as it relates to heart attacks. It is seldom as dramatic as you might think and it can feel like pressure or heartburn that comes on over time.

Three subtle symptoms women, especially, should watch for:

Unusual fatigue
Like many women, you’re probably busy most of the time. You may take care of a family, run a household, work outside the home and care for ageing parents. You are probably also tired a lot of the time. Most likely this is normal.

But you should pay attention to fatigue if it is new or dramatic. Here’s what to watch out for:
You are suddenly worn out after your typical exercise routine
You aren’t exerting yourself, but have fatigue or a ‘heavy’ chest.
Simple activity like making the bed, walking to the bathroom or shopping makes you excessively tired.|
Although you feel exceptionally tired, you also experience sleep disturbance.

Sweating and/or shortness of breath
As women age, a lack of exercise and gradual weight gain cause issues like shortness of breath. Hot flashes are a common complaint for many women during menopause.

But these symptoms can signal a heart problem when they happen in certain situations:

Sudden sweating or shortness of breath without exertion;
Breathlessness that continues to worsen over time after exertion;
Shortness of breath that worsens when lying down and improves when propping up;
‘Stress’ sweat (cold, clammy feeling) when there is no real cause for stress;
Sweating or shortness of breath accompanied by other symptoms such as chest pain or fatigue.

Neck, jaw, back pain
As intricate as our body’s systems are, they are very adept at giving signals when there is something wrong. When there is a problem with the heart, it triggers nerves in that area, but you sometimes feel pain elsewhere – called referred pain.

Pain in the jaw, back or arms may signal a heart condition, especially if the origin is hard to pinpoint (for example there is no specific muscle or joint that aches). Also, if the discomfort begins or worsens when you are exerting yourself and then stops when you quit exercising, you should get it checked out.

Here are some other signs to look out for:

Women, in particular, can have pain in either arm – not just the left one like many men.
Pain in the lower or upper back often starts in the chest and spreads to these areas.
The pain is sometimes sudden, not due to physical exertion and can wake you up at night.
You may feel pain that is specific to the left, lower side of the jaw.

If you have any of these signs, call an ambulance and get to a hospital right away.

Natural, integrative, holistic approach to heart health.

The heart is not only a pump. It is also an endocrine gland making and secreting ANF (atrio-natriuretic factor). The heart’s electromagnetic, crystalline field extends at least a measurable three metres away from it and entangles with others’ fields. These energies form a torus field. The heart is in a 24/7 communication with and informing the brain and body.

Integrative healing modalities


Heart healthy eating and the most important nutrients and herbal remedies for heart health

Antioxidant combination with enough vitamins A, E, C and minerals zinc, selenium, chromium, copper;
High dosages of the B-complex vitamins B1, 3, 5, 6, choline, inositol; B12 and biotin; folic acid;
Magnesium together with calcium in the correct ratio;
Co-enzyme Q10 in therapeutic quantities;
Hawthorn (Crateagus oxyacantha) berry in therapeutic quantities
Essential fatty acids, especially omega 3 found in cold water fish;
Ginkgo biloba in therapeutic quantities;
Garlic – eat crushed garlic in your food – at least 3 cloves a day, with parsley for the smell, or take garlic capsules
Phyto (plant) oestrogens and many other important nutrients, e.g. soy beans, chick peas, lentils, linseed, nuts and seeds.
Have your homocysteine measured together with your regular lipid profile tests. High levels mean high risk: Accumulated homocysteine damages the inner lining of the arteries and encourages the formation of atherosclerosis.

A study done at Ohio State University in the USA even showed a link between high homocysteine levels and an attitude of hostility and anger. The stress associated with hostility and anger may elevate homocysteine levels, accelerating damage to the inside of the arterial walls (atherosclerosis).

The treatment is cheap, simple and extremely effective: Consume sufficient amounts of vitamin E, B6, B12 and folic acid/folate (often deficient in people with high homocysteine). These nutrients ensure the conversion of homocysteine into beneficial antioxidants.


Heartfelt feelings
We often say: my heart’s not in it anymore; my heart is sore; my heart is breaking. This is much more literal than we think! In all cultures and religions, the experience of peace, love, healing and harmony are seated in the heart and thymus (responsible for immunity) region in the chest. Feelings of love also have a positive influence on the immune system, hormones and cognitive brain function.

Heart rhythm patterns and emotions
When going for your next ECG, do your own test with how you’re feeling and see how your heart rate changes accordingly.

In his book Love & Survival, Dr Dean Ornish says that the most important contributing factor to heart health, is the love and intimacy found in close relationships. Research has shown that people in Japan and France (both countries with low heart disease risk) have very close family and friendship links, signifying the perception they have of having a support system in times of trouble. Lack of love and intimacy has been shown to be the most consistent predictor of heart disease! This is a more consistent factor than genetics and risk factors such as obesity, too little exercise, high LDL-cholesterol, poor nutrition and smoking.

Even some of the risk factors can be attributable to lack of social interaction and feeling isolated and alone! People smoke, drink, or overeat as an ineffective, harmful way of stilling the mind from the stressful monkey chatter, to try and prevent the emotions from surfacing.

Understanding suppressed emotions, does NOT imply that you CAUSE your disease on purpose! The process occurs on a deeply unconscious level in cell memories. You can however, become consciously aware of these issues and, through process work, help your inner self to heal, leading to personal power and inner peace.

The heart and cell memories
Reports from heart transplant patients illustrate that sometimes the new heart comes with cell memories from the donor. A well-known case was of a woman who hated curry, then received the heart of an Indian boy who died in a motorcycle accident. A while after her transplant, she developed a craving for curried food!

PubMed reports on personality changes following a heart transplant where recipients develop personality traits of the donor. These have been reported for decades and are mostly characterised into four categories: (1) changes in preferences, (2) alterations in emotions/temperament, (3) modifications of identity and (4) memories from the donor’s life. 

Healing ideas for your heart:

Healing your physical body to release cell memories: Optimise physical health and use the body to connect you to your mind, emotions and soul essence.

Identify body signals of severe stress: Feel the pain, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, depression;
Breathing exercises to open the chest area, expand the lungs, increase oxygenation of cells: Belly or diaphragmatic breathing, bellows breathing, alternate nostril breathing;
Progressive deep muscle relaxation;
Specific Yoga exercises including head, neck and shoulder stretches and rotations; cobra pose; half locust pose; head-to-knee pose, chest extensions, etc;
Dance movements such as Nia technique and slow, mindful movement like Tai chi;
Following a heart healthy eating plan.

Healing your emotions or feelings towards yourself and others:

Work on releasing past emotional injuries and hurts, including relationships, release of sorrow, guilt, forgiveness and acceptance of self and others;
Anger management: Learn how to acknowledge the intense energy of anger and allow it proper expression.

Healing your thoughts

Use heart centred positive affirmations and directed visualisations to sense feelings of love, joy, peace and happiness within the heart.
Go on a journey of self-discovery: Let go of deeply ingrained unconscious patterns of behaviour that do not serve you any longer, through journaling, psychotherapy, free hand writing.

Healing by connecting to your deeper, higher self or soul

Meditate regularly: Mindfulness, witnessing, visualisation meditations work well for the heart;
Releasing the shadow deep inside the unconscious mind through transpersonal and soul-based psychotherapy;
Quiet time, soul reflection and contemplation.

The heart of the matter
When people open their hearts to unselfish, unconditional love, a whole new world of possibilities opens. Rather than spending effort avoiding the selfishness of others, they spend time making sure that the way they choose to serve society is done in the best way possible. When people can trust others to treat each other with love and respect rather than as competitors, then everyone gains.

As heart-centred awareness grows and blooms within society, people’s primary focus will shift away from service to self and towards service to others. When it does, the world will transform out of all recognition.

We connect on a heart level. Our heartfelt action, will create a heartfelt reality among us and the people who are attracted to our energy.

Dr Arien van der Merwe

Dr Arien van der Merwe

Medical doctor, author & holistic health counsellor

Dr Arien van der Merwe is a medical doctor, author and holistic health counsellor. She developed and presents continued professional development training through VideoLearn and Synergetica CPD Courses on Mental Health in Challenging Uncertain Times; Heart Health; Inflammation both Friend and Foe and Neuroplasticity.

Dr Arien teaches group and individual meditation and relaxation classes, as well as health coaching online (WhatsApp video consultations) and at her rooms in Pretoria. More info: https://www.DrArien.co.za 

Arien van der Merwe

Dr Arien van der Merwe is a medical doctor, author and holistic health counsellor. She developed and presents continued professional development training through VideoLearn and Synergetica CPD Courses on Mental Health in Challenging Uncertain Times; Heart Health; Inflammation both Friend and Foe and Neuroplasticity. These online CPD Courses explore ways to support both ourselves, our nearest and dearest, as well as our clients/patients.

Dr Arien is the author of Stress Solutions, the ‘Relax & Unwind’ relaxation CD as well as the books Health & Happiness, Managing Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome and Herbal Remedies. Dr Arien teaches group and individual meditation and relaxation classes, as well as health coaching online (WhatsApp video consultations) and at her rooms in Pretoria.