Obvious as a Heart Attack? Know the Warning Signs, Save a Life

Bobbie says:

As you probably know, February is Heart Month – all month long there have been events & promotions to turn everyone’s attention toward heart health. Since this is a leap year, today is like a Bonus Day – so I thought I’d share my story. I feel like the rest of my life is Bonus Days, because I would not be here now if I hadn’t been paying attention.

You’d know if you were having a heart attack. I mean, how could you NOT know, right?

Quite easily, as it turns out. Especially if you’re female:  Heart attack symptoms in women can be quite different from those in men.

I learned this first-hand on Friday May 20, 2011.

On Thursday, I’d mowed my small lawn, stopping halfway through to go inside and “catch my breath,” when I felt I couldn’t take another step. I woke up in my recliner two hours later, still worn out, but finished the mowing anyway. My arms felt extremely weak, but so did the rest of me, so it didn’t seem that odd.

Friday night I went to bed early, hoping to finally get some rest. After a few hours of tossing and turning, completely exhausted, but feeling too uncomfortable to sleep, I resigned myself to another sleepless night and got up. I’d been like that for about a week – able to catch only short naps, sometimes at night, sometimes during the day, but waking up feeling as if I hadn’t slept at all.

I attributed my inability to get comfortable in bed to indigestion, which I blamed on the spaghetti dinner fundraiser I’d attended earlier. This is kind of gross, but I had terrible gas pains in the upper abdominal/lower chest area. I’d experienced gas like this many times, but not for years, since changing the way I ate most of the time. I was burping like crazy, but it wasn’t helping. I had no antacids or anti-gas medicine in the house, so I mixed a half-teaspoon of baking soda in water – the concoction my grandparents had used as an antacid – but it provided no relief.

Utterly exhausted and living alone at the time, I decided my only choice was to drive to the store to get gas medicine, so I could (hopefully) get some sleep.

At 1:30 in the morning. Obviously, I was not thinking clearly.

In the store, I leaned heavily on the shopping cart. Everything felt unreal – as if I was watching someone else do these things. I took a dose of the gas medicine as soon as I found it, then went to pay for it and drove home. It didn’t get better. Instead, I started getting a slight tightness in my chest. No pain, other than what I’d had before from gas pain.

Something in my head said, “heart attack?” but I dismissed it. “This can’t be a heart attack. It doesn’t hurt enough. Doesn’t a heart attack feel worse than childbirth without painkillers? This is just frustrating and annoying – not something that can kill me.

Fortunately, my brain nagged me and the internet exists. I googled heart attack symptoms and read some, which gave me a notion that heart attacks look different in women. So I searched on heart attack women and found some scary news.

It’s common for women NOT to have the “typical” chest pain associated with a heart attack, and to have symptoms not generally experienced by men during a cardiac event – making it harder to recognize what’s happening. Consequently, women wait longer to get medical attention, and are more likely to die from a heart attack.

Don’t feel stupid if you didn’t know this – it’s pretty new information. Lots of doctors and hospitals still don’t realize that heart attacks can look very different in women. How can that be? In the past, heart studies were primarily done on men, and it was assumed that the findings carried over to women. But women are not just smaller versions of men with different naughty bits. Our chemical makeup and internal anatomy affect how heart disease develops, how accurate standard diagnostic tests are on us, and how we respond to medications. It’s relatively recent that studies have been conducted on women in this area.

Heart attack symptoms that women commonly have include:

  • Unusual fatigue – much more than what is typical for you
  • Prolonged sleep disturbances (not just a couple restless nights)
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Indigestion
  • Anxiety
  • Lower chest discomfort
  • Upper abdominal pressure/discomfort that can feel like indigestion
  • Back pain
  • Perspiration (when you really shouldn’t be)
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Jaw pain

Actually, the unusual fatigue and prolonged sleep disturbances may be an early warning sign – some women report having these symptoms as much as a month before their cardiac event. (I’d had them for a couple weeks, and it kept getting worse.)

As you can see, none of these, taken separately, are unique and distinct signs that would make you immediately think, “I’M HAVING A HEART ATTACK,” but if you have some of these symptoms, it’s time to call 9-1-1.

I looked at the symptoms I found and realized that I had most of the symptoms and YES, IT’S PROBABLY A HEART ATTACK.  So, at about 3:30 in the morning, I made the call. The paramedics were there in less than 10 minutes, hooking up the portable EKG. I was rushed directly to a hospital in the next county, because they had a cardiac specialty unit. Balloon angioplasty was performed to install a stent in a coronary artery that was completely blocked.

If I had just dismissed the symptoms and not called for help when I did, I would have been dead before the sun came up Saturday morning.

The bottom line is this:

PAY ATTENTION to your body. Know what is normal for you so you can recognize when something is off. If you start to wonder whether you’re having a heart attack, don’t wait until your heart stops to find out if you were right. Your life may depend on it.

For a slightly humorous take on this serious subject, enjoy this video by Elizabeth Banks.

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Comments

  1. Thanks. That was great. I’m passing on your post…

  2. writercook says:

    You didn’t tell how scared your friends were and how glad they are that you made that call. They were, and they are. I still get weepy every time I think about it.

  3. Thanks so much for your post.  This is scary stuff but knowing the symptoms and that it can come on slowly helps.  I’m definitely passing this post on : D

  4. I lost an online friend a couple of years ago to a heart attack. She only complained about being tired, and never got help. She was under 60, and very, very missed.
     
    I am so glad you were treated and recovered.

  5. Rachel@FoodFix says:

    Great post! And so important to recognize the signs. I too had a heart attack this past August 2011…and mine was attributed to something called SCAD (Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection) which is a spontaneous tear in an artery that causes a blockage. I am healthy and with no blockages or heart disease and SCAD affects healthy women, mostly young and pregnant or recently pregnant, or healthy menopausal women too. Read my full story on my blog http://www.food-fix.com/health/peanut-butter-pie/  and you can see a video on SCAD at http://www.spontaneouscoronaryarterydissection.com/. My point about SCAD is that it can happen to perfectly healthy younger women, so it’s even more important for all women to be aware of these symptoms and not write them off…or let ER personnel write you off because you seem to young for it to be a heart issue. I got sent home from the ER with antacids…and had a full blown heart attack a few hours later…then had to be rushed back. Thanks for the important message in this post. I love that Eliz Banks film…so funny…and it makes my skin crawl because it’s so well done and real!

  6. DebbieLazarchicWeber says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, and thanks for calling 911 when you did.  :)

  7. MarciaF says:

    My mother had, at 87, a similar story.  When I called her as usual on a Sunday afternoon, she explained she was tired and hadn’t been sleeping and could not sleep lying down because she had so much “gas pain” and it was difficult to breathe.  Since Friday night she had been dozing in her recliner.  I told her she needed to call the doctor immediately.  She explained that these things always happen on weekends and she didn’t want to “bother” anyone.  I called my brother who went to her home and took her to the ER.  She had three (!) blocked arteries and needed the angioplasty to put stents in.  She is doing fine now.

  8. Colette says:

    I got home from work and got what felt like servere gas pain in my upper abdomen right below my chest. It was so server I keeled over on the floor for about 20 minutes I think. Even my cat was scared! I had my husband get my blood pressure cuff and it was about 184 over 104 or something like that. Finally the pain subsided and I don’t feel dizzy but maybe a little light headed.

  9. Colette says:

    I got home from work and got what felt like servere gas pain in my upper abdomen right below my chest. It was so server I keeled over on the floor for about 20 minutes I think. Even my cat was scared! I had my husband get my blood pressure cuff and it was about 184 over 104 or something like that. Finally the pain subsided and I don’t feel dizzy but maybe a little light headed.

  10. Colette says:

    I got home from work and got what felt like servere gas pain in my upper abdomen right below my chest. It was so server I keeled over on the floor for about 20 minutes I think. Even my cat was scared! I had my husband get my blood pressure cuff and it was about 184 over 104 or something like that. Finally the pain subsided and I don’t feel dizzy but maybe a little light headed.

  11. Colette says:

    I got home from work and got what felt like servere gas pain in my upper abdomen right below my chest. It was so server I keeled over on the floor for about 20 minutes I think. Even my cat was scared! I had my husband get my blood pressure cuff and it was about 184 over 104 or something like that. Finally the pain subsided and I don’t feel dizzy but maybe a little light headed. Blood pressure is normal now.

  12. I had a very similar experience with my dad. So it is not only women. It’s just everybody may show different symptoms, and this is one of them.

  13. So the pain doesn’t have to be intense? I keep being awakened by discomfort in my chest on the left side but aside from that I feel ok. Just started this morning.

  14. I have experienced a few of these sympyoms and have been doing a lot of research in the last week. A week ago I had severe arm pain, felt like a knot or blockage in my elbow and sharp shooting pains to my finger tips. That lasted a few hours, then after I was cold, no freezing, even with blankets but no fever. And was beyond exhausted, and have been tired all week since that night. I have 4 children , 3 in school so cold and similar sympyoms are thru my home all winter, so ive probably let my cold turn into a lung infection of some sort, which covers my shortness of breath. Ihave a lot of health issues and have an appointment to see a rheumatologist, but I still have a hard time accepting this could be heart related since I am only 30 yrs old. Do my symptoms sound concerning enough to be checked out?

    • I might add, it was my left arm that I had the issue with. My left shoulder/ neck as well, though not associated with the elbow/arm pains.

  15. all the time i used to read smaller articles or reviews which also
    clear their motive, and that is also happening with this article
    which I am reading now.

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