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Women and Heart Attacks – A Nurse’s Heart Attack Experience To Be Passed On

  [ 41 votes ]   [ 4 Comments ]
By Diane K • • April 8, 2009

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 am an ER nurse, and this is the best description of this event that I have ever heard. She asks that we please read, pay attention, and pass it on! A cardiologist says if everyone who reads this sends it on, you can be sure that we'll save at least one life. - "Diane K"

* * * *

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 snug & warm on a cold evening, with my purring cat in my lap, reading an interesting story my friend had sent me, and actually thinking, 'Aaah, this is the life, all cozy and warm in my soft, cushy Lazy Boy with my feet propped up.’

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 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 pm.

After it seemed to subside, the next sensation was like little squeezing motions that seemed to be racing up my SPINE (hindsight, it was probably my 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 (myocardial infarction) happening, haven't we? I said aloud to myself and the cat, ‘Dear God, I think I'm having a heart attack!’

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, 'If 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.'

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 and partner 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 to 30 minutes before calling the paramedics, but actually it took perhaps 4 to 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… to know what I learned first hand.

1. Be aware that something very different is happening in your body. Not the usual men's symptoms, but inexplicable things happening (until my sternum and jaws got into the act). It is said that many more women than men die of their first (and last) MI because they didn't know they were having one and commonly mistake it as 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 is unpleasantly 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 that you need ASAP. Your doctor 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 a cholesterol elevated reading is rarely the cause of an MI (unless it's unbelievably high and/or accompanied by high blood pressure). MIs 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.

Note: This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is anecdotal and general information and is not meant to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any illness, condition, or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.

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Article Comments Post a Comment

Women fibromyalgia sufferers and heart attacks
Posted by: pearls
Mar 19, 2009
Thank you very much for this. It is useful to hear a first-hand account of a woman's heart attack. I've been to the ER four times since the onset of my fibromaygla. Three of those were for symptoms of a possible heart attack. Also, I've had heart catheterization, as well as neuclear treadmill tests and so forth, all of which show my heart to be in good shape. Unfortunately, my biggest fibromyalgia symptom happens to be crushing chest pain, and each time I get it, I feel weak all over. My second biggest problem is heartburn and indigestion. Also, fibromyalgia comes with new symptoms that pop up from time to time. While I agree with the author on the necessity of going to the ER, the fact remains that I cannot go there every week! So I can just listen to my body for the kinds of symptoms the author describes and whatever else I read about heart attacks in women. I also listen to my body for chest pain, heartburn and indigestion that is different from the kind I usually experience. -Pear S.
Reply Reply

Book to help
Posted by: meedmo42
Apr 7, 2009
I have found that the book by Dr. Devin Starlanyl, who also has Fibro, called Fibromyalgia & Chronic Myofascial Pain Syndrome is a marvelous, informative way to help understand it all. Mary


It isn't easy...
Posted by: feathermelightly
Mar 19, 2009
to know when is the right time to go. I have gone several times and each time I ask for my records including EKGs. They are always abnormal during the times I am experiencing pain but I am told: they are normmal the leads were placed incorrectly the software errs on the side of things being worse than they are

I have decided it will take a great deal of pain plus other symptoms before I make a trip again. My last trip I had severe chest pain after surgery when I woke up. They wrote everything was normal but sent me to the ER from the surgical center to have any problems ruled out. My tropopin 1 level was 0.54, in the grey area, ended up with a heart cath but there was nothing wrong! It verified the 64 cut scan I had that wasn't normal - showed coronary artery disease with less than 10% blockage. They continued to give me nitro through my hospital stay but nothing was wrong.

What is wrong with telling the truth? A doctor asked me what was wrong with my heart. I told him I've not been given enough information to know. No wonder more women die than men with heart attacks.


Heart Attacks and Fibro
Posted by: meedmo42
Apr 1, 2009
I have to agree with the comment as I also have Fibromyalgia and have chest pain and heart burn (diagnosed as such) but did once have a session that required a stent and an angioplasty. It is extremely difficult to tell the difference and if you have little or no insurance, it can be horribly costly to visit the ER or call Paramedics each time you have a session of what is often just muscle pain or heartburn. I do take aspirin and then walk back and forth, breathing slowly and deeply. This seems to help. Sometimes I also take an antacid. Some sessions last a short time, others last an hour or so, but eventually they ease. I never feel pain radiating out (although I did have some arm pain for that one bad session, so I watch for that). This doesn't happen often. Fibromyalgia is a problem disease that can mimic so many things. For me, I have to listen to my body and use my common sense. As a nurse, the original poster can probably afford hospital visits. I cannot. I'm already paying on dr. and hospital bills of nearly $50,000 for the last time. Mary E. Northern IN
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