Womanís Heart Attack Looks & Feels Different than a Manís | Print |  E-mail
Monday, 03 November 2008
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This account of a womanís heart attack has been making the digital rounds for some time now, but if you havenít seen it, itís really worth reading. And, according to one cardiologist, if you send it on to at least 10 others, thereís a good chance youíll be saving at least one life. Check it out:

I am an ER nurse and this is the best description of this event that I have ever heard.  Please read, pay attention, and send it on!  Did you know that women rarely have the same dramatic symptoms that men have when experiencing heart attack? .. you know, the sudden stabbing pain in the chest, the cold sweat, grabbing the chest & dropping to the floor that we see in the movies.  Here is the story of one woman's experience with a heart attack.

I had a heart attack at about 10 :30 PM with NO prior exertion, NO prior emotional trauma that one would suspect might have brought it on. I was sitting all snugly & warm on a cold evening, with my purring cat in my lap, reading an interesting story my friend had sent me, and actually thinking, 'A-A-h, this is the life, all cozy and warm in my soft, cushy Lazy Boy with my feet propped up.í
 
A moment later, I felt that awful sensation of indigestion, when you've been in a hurry and grabbed a bite of sandwich and washed it down with a dash of water, and that hurried bite seems to feel like you've swallowed a golf ball going down the esophagus in slow motion and it is most uncomfortable. You realize you shouldn't have gulped it down so fast and needed to chew it more thoroughly and this time drink a glass of water to hasten its progress down to the stomach. This was my initial sensation---the only trouble was that I hadn't taken a bite of anything since about 5:00 p.m.
 
After it seemed to subside, the next sensation was like little squeezing motions that seemed to be racing up my SPINE (hind-sight, it was probably aorta spasms), gaining speed as they continued racing up and under my sternum (breast bone, where one presses rhythmically when administering CPR).

This fascinating process continued on into my throat and branched out into both jaws. 'AHA!! NOW I stopped puzzling about what was happening -- we all have read and/or heard about pain in the jaws being one of the signals of an MI happening, haven't we? I said aloud to myself and the cat, ĎDear God, I think I'm having a heart attack!í
 
I lowered the foot rest, dumping the cat from my lap, started to take a step and fell on the floor instead. I thought to myself, ĎIf this is a heart attack, I shouldn't be walking into the next room where the phone is or anywhere else ... but, on the other hand, if I don't, nobody will know that I need help, and if I wait any longer I may not be able to get up in a moment.í

I pulled myself up with the arms of the chair, walked slowly into the next room and dialed the paramedics ... I told her I thought I was having a heart attack due to the pressure building under the sternum and radiating into my jaws. I didn't feel hysterical or afraid, just stating the facts. She said she was sending the paramedics over immediately, asked if the front door was near to me, and if so, to un-bolt the door and then lie down on the floor where they could see me when they came in.
 
I unlocked the door and then laid down on the floor as instructed and lost consciousness, as I don't remember the medics coming in, their examination, lifting me onto a gurney or getting me into their ambulance, or hearing the call they made to St. Jude ER on the way, but I did briefly awaken when we arrived and saw that the radiologist was already there in his surgical blues and cap, helping the medics pull my stretcher out of the ambulance. He was bending over me asking questions (probably something like 'Have you taken any medications?') but I couldn't make my mind interpret what he was saying, or form an answer, and nodded off again, not waking up until the Cardiologist had already threaded the teeny angiogram balloon up my femoral artery into the aorta and into my heart where they installed 2 side by side stents to hold open my right coronary artery.

I know it sounds like all my thinking and actions at home must have taken at least 20-30 minutes before calling the paramedics, but actually it took perhaps 4-5 minutes before the call, and both the fire station and St. Jude are only minutes away from my home, and my Cardiologist was already to go to the OR in his scrubs and get going on restarting my heart (which had stopped somewhere between my arrival and the procedure) and installing the stents.
 
Why have I written all of this to you with so much detail? Because I want all of you who are so important in my life to know what I learned first hand:
 

  1. Be aware a womanís heart attack is usually something very different from the usual men's symptoms. It is said that many more women than men die of their first (and last) heart attack, because they don't know theyíre having one and commonly mistake it for indigestion, take some Maalox or other anti-heartburn preparation and go to bed, hoping they'll feel better in the morning when they wake up ... which doesn't happen. My female friends, your symptoms might not be exactly like mine, so I advise you to call the Paramedics if ANYTHING unpleasant is happening that you've not felt before. It is better to have a 'false alarm' visitation than to risk your life guessing what it might be!
  2. Note that I said 'Call the Paramedics.' And if you can, take an aspirin. Ladies, TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE! Do NOT try to drive yourself to the ER - you are a hazard to others on the road. Do NOT have your panicked husband who will be speeding and looking anxiously at what's happening with you instead of the road. Do NOT call your doctor -- he doesn't know where you live and if it's at night you won't reach him anyway, and if it's daytime, his assistants (or answering service) will tell you to call the Paramedics. He doesn't carry the equipment in his car that you need to be saved. The Paramedics do - principally OXYGEN, which you need ASAP. Your Dr. will be notified later.
  3. Don't assume it couldn't be a heart attack because you have a normal cholesterol count. Research has discovered that an elevated cholesterol reading is rarely the cause of a heart attack (unless it's unbelievably high and/or accompanied by high blood pressure).  Heart attacks are usually caused by long-term stress and inflammation in the body, which dumps all sorts of deadly hormones into your system to sludge things up in there. Pain in the jaw can wake you from a sound sleep. Let's be careful and be aware. The more we know, the better chance we could survive.


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Comments (14)Add Comment
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written by Lori Frazer, November 04, 2008
This is excellent information, and I thank you for sharing it! This is very similiar to my Mother in law's story. Thankfully, she too made it in time to the hospital to have triple by-pass to save her life! Thanks again, and I will send it on!
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written by susanne sandberg, November 04, 2008
very well written article. interesting timing. Today my 45 year old daughter told me she spent Hallowe'en in the ER due to chest pain. ( She had a blood clot in her lungs last spring, so she got immediate attention and a full work-up). Fortunately, her heart is just fine and no further clots. They're looking into other causes of the the pain. She did drive herself to the hospital after her doctor told her to get to the ER. Now I wonder whether her doctor actually asked her to call the ambulance.
It might be a good idea for all doctors who instruct the patient to go to the ER to say : call an ambulance. DO NOT DRIVE YOURSELF.
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written by Belleruth, November 10, 2008
I'm so glad I posted this. I almost didn't, because I'd seen it a few times before and feared it would be old news. In fact, this page got more visits than anything we've ever posted.
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written by Beth, August 18, 2010
I am a 40 year old women who amonth ago had a heart attack.. I had the indegestion feeling that was so painfull I had to call a friend and she came and said she was calling 911. the paramedics arrived and i was sitting in my chair freezing to death.. I couldnt get enough air into my lungs fast enough I was taken to the er and it showed that i had had a mild heart attack. I was admitted to the icu and the next day they done a heart cath and found i was 90% blocked i was told that i had to have a heart bypass and the next day i at 5:30 am i was in surgery.
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written by Tina, September 01, 2010
I'm 40 years old and been going through alot of stress, back in November I thought I was having a heart attack and it ended up being a panic attack. but now I feel pressure in my chest and been feeling really light headed. the pressure in my chest hurts and I have trouble breathing. can anyone tell me what is going on here? its been happening alot and when i say alot. its coming and going more and more every day and more then 5 times a day. sometimes it feels like indigestion. I'm getting scared. my mom died of a heart attack about a year and a half ago, she just dropped. she lived in Massachusetts and I live in Florida, but heard she just dropped while snow blowing the driveway. she didn't make it because she was without oxygen to her brain for more then a half hour. so it scares me thinking this runs in the family.
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written by Lisa, September 01, 2010
can't hurt to go to the doctor and have yourself checked out.
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written by chest pain in women, October 11, 2010
Women with chest pain who have low hemoglobin levels are more likely to die or suffer a heart attack, heart failure, stroke or other cardiovascular event than women with normal hemoglobin levels, women with low hemoglobin levels had a higher rate of death and cardiovascular events over a relatively intermediate length of follow up, averaging just over three years. In addition, the hemoglobin levels where these adverse events occurred are by standard definitions only mildly to moderately low. And a low hemoglobin level was a better predictor of adverse cardiovascular events than most traditional cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, age, or family history of heart disease
http://www.insideheart.com/
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written by syra, October 23, 2010
The following symptoms are found both in men and women
Chest discomfort, uncomfortable pressure over the chest,
fullness of chest
squeezing of chest
pain in the center of the chest,
spreading pain to inner side of left arm(occasionally right arm),
Pain over the upper back,
Radiating pain to the jaw.
Heart attack symptoms in women about 30% of them reported chest pain and discomfort prior to a heart attack, and 43% didn't experience chest pain during one. Most doctors consider chest pain the most important heart attack symptom for both men and women, but the women's most frequently reported early warning symptoms were
unusual fatigue (70.7%),
Sleep disturbance (47.8%),
Shortness of breath (42.1%).
This finding may help women and their doctors more accurately identify the early warning symptoms of a heart attack in woman so that they can better forestall or prevent the attacks.
http://www.insideheart.com/mild-heart-attack-symptoms.html
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written by Joan, November 13, 2010
A few strong irregular heartbeats just before sitting up early in the morning. Then sudden stiffness in left jaw and neck. could not turn neck to left as normal. sweat formed on my brow and I became extremely shakey. Couldn't believe it was a heart attack but gut feeling said it was. adult daugher wanted to call 911, I said not yet. Wheeled myself in wheelchair to computer (so dumb) and became so weak I knew it was time for 911. Blood work at hospital confirmed heart attack. 77 years of age.
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written by jadesmith, December 09, 2010
Heart disease may not show symptoms prior which need to be watchfull about. Some common symptoms are some forms of pain, discomfort sensation or pressure in the center of the trunk or chest. However chest pain is not mostly acute in females.
http://www.womenhealthcenter.net/womens-heart-disease.html
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written by Amanda Cameron, April 17, 2011
I was a healthy 45 year old woman, running 4 to 5 times per week; vegetarian diet but with lots of fish. In October I began to have chest pains / spasms. I have had 6 months of visits to accident and emergency units and at least 20 visits to my Dr. No one believed there was anything wrong with me. I had a heart attack on 9th March and subsequently had a stent fitted to open a severely narrowed artery. Why do women have to face these problems? I also dont understand why it happened - healthy except low in iron - no family history. I also feel quite isolated as do not know of this happening to any one else my age.
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written by Susan, January 01, 2012
My doctor, who insists on treating me for HBP, tells me I watch too much "House" and, when I get health insurance, he'll run more tests. Former chronic alcohol abuser, I've lost 15 lbs. and BP has been "normal" for several months (125/76 or below). Have been to four ERs for stroke-like "spells"; once for slight chest pain. Even with "stroke", I wait in ER until symptoms are gone, then "you're not having a stroke". Today, have really painful muscle spasms up left side of spine right under scapula area (slept on couch). Don't know "shortness of breath" - I'm a smoker. No insurance, not employed, can't afford bills...no help, either. Litter boxes are clean, vacuuming done, guess I'll walk dog, take shower and decide what to do. Women's health problems are so over-looked, especially by male doctors!
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written by Cristy Elliott, May 27, 2012
My 72 year old mother who was 71 at the time was having pain in her feet, 1 was worse than the other. Doctors discovered blockage in the bend of both legs, she had an appointment to get them fixed with the balloon proceedure. After it was done she was having trouble breathing. And began to panic, saying she was having a heart attack. EKG test showed she was not. nurses said she was having a panic attack. And they were wrong. It was 1 of many heart attacks she had, had in the past. She ended up having triple bypass heart surgery in January, 2012. It was because she was a heavy smoker. We celebrated her 72nd Birthday last month (April) I'm lucky to have her here today!
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written by Tina, April 10, 2013
I am up at 4:53 am because I went to go get a physical for a job yesterday the nurse took my vitals and said my pulse was extremely high 114, she asked me if I was nervous, if I raced in here, if I drank caffeine, none of these applied to me, I told her I've been under alot of stress lately my husband and I are thinking about divorcing after 26yrs of marriage, the stress has been going on for 4 years, the nurse made me sit in the room and she checked it 2 more times during a 60 minute period. My heart rate was 112 boeach other time .Because this was a physical for a job this want my primary physician, she told me to check my pulse myself through that day and the next. My pulse stayed around 107 to 118.This was checked while I was at sitting down relaxing for an hour or so. Then I woke p this morning at 4:30am and checked it while I was in bed just waking up and its 98. The reason this is so extremely alarming, just the day before my physical I felt different, I felt really bloated, tired , confused, very irritable, I had a terrible headache,felt like throwing up my sternum felt tight, my chest felt like it was caving in, it was hard for me to breath, and I couldn't gain to be thinking straight. I fell asleep and just holed I feel better in the morning, but I felt extremely weak. What should I do, should I wait to feel this way again or should I see a cardiologist? Help

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