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Heart Attacks in Women - Special Symptoms in Women

This is an important article on Heart Attack in Women. I’ve meant to send this to my women friends to warn them that it’s true that women rarely have the same dramatic symptoms that men have when experiencing a heart attack like the sudden stabbing pain in the chest, the cold sweat, grabbing the chest & dropping to the floor that we see in the movies.

Heart Attack Symtoms in Women

Heart Attacks in Women

Having had a completely unexpected heart attack about 10:30 p.m. with NO prior exertion, NO prior emotional trauma which one would suspect might’ve brought it on, it was this past April 2006, about 1-1/2 hours after I’d spent a pleasant 2 hrs. rehearsing with the Note-a-Belles. 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, "Ah-Ah-Ah; this is the life ". all cozy and warm in my soft, cushy Lazy Boy with my feet propped up."

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

A moment later, I felt that awful sensation of indigestion, like when you’ve been in a hurry and grabbed a bite of sandwich and washed it down with a dash of water; that hurried bite seems to feel like you’ve swallowed a golf ball going down the esophagus in slow motion, and it is really awful and so most uncomfortable. You realize you shouldn’t have gulped it down so fast; needed to chew it more thoroughly, and this time drink a glass of water to hasten its progress down to the stomach which doesn’t do much good because your esophagus and throat muscles are in spasms, and it hurts to swallow.

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 that, it had seemed to subside, and the next sensation was like little-squeezing motions that seemed to be racing up my SPINE (hind-sight: it was probably my aorta spasming), and 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 feeling being puzzled about what was happening. We all have read and/or heard about pain in the jaws being "one of the signals" of a heart attack 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, and started to take a step but 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, or at all."

I pulled myself up with the arms of the chair, walked slowly into the next room, and dialed the paramedics. I guess when one reaches them, your address automatically flashes on a screen, and the operator verified my address immediately and asked my symptoms.

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 unbolt the door and then lie down on the floor where they could see me when they came in. No, I didn’t take an aspirin, as I’m allergic to it, but I did take an important 100 mg "magnesium oxide" capsule which bottle I keep handily in reach on the kitchen counter which is a small detour on my way to the front door with about a 3/4 glass of water to get it dissolving ASAP into my bloodstream.

Important Information:

Magnesium relaxes blood vessels, and it dissolves to get them expanded to let blood get through the constriction of the vessels. I then laid down on the floor as instructed and lost consciousness. 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 Cardiologist 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 just 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 two side-by-side stints to hold open my right coronary artery; and now was being taken into the CCU, and looking up at the three anxious faces of my children, Karen, Mark, and Wendy. Since I’d been a patient at St. Jude in 2002 for my TIA treatment, they had my emergency info in their system and had called my kids. I spent two days in CCU, and two in General Ward, and then was discharged.

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 ready to go to the operation theatre in his scrubs and was getting going on restarting my heart (which had stopped somewhere between my arrival and the procedure) and was installing the stints.

Heart Disease in Women

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 firsthand, as a Certified Medical Back-Office Assistant in Internal Medicine Clinics, and as one who has lived through a heart attack due to:

  1. Being aware that something very different was happening in my 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 ( Myocardial Infarction) because they didn’t know they were having one, and commonly mistaking 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", Ladies. Time is of the essence! Do not try to drive yourself to the ER (Emergency Room). You’re a hazard to others on the road, and so is your panicked husband/friend who will be speeding and looking anxiously at what’s happening with you instead of the road, and so are your kids or friends a hazard as well. As sure as I sit here, they will get the attention of a cop who will pull you over for speeding i.e. more wasted time.

    Do not call your doctor as 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 that you need to be saved in his car. The Paramedics have what you need - principally "OXYGEN" that you need as soon as possible. Your doctor will be notified later.
  3. Don’t assume that it couldn’t be a heart attack because you have a normal cholesterol count. I did, and do, too. Research has discovered that a cholesterol elevated reading is rarely the cause of an MI (Myocardial Infarction) unless it’s unbelievably high, and/or accompanied by high blood pressure. MI’s 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 (and, of course, family genetics can be a factor).
  1. I have pain in my chest, back jaw and arm. My throat tightens up; all my doctor will say is that I am stressed or that I am having a panic attack.

  2. You article is wonderful, thank you. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with intense jaw pain and pain when I inhale. My doctor didn’t seem real concerned but has me scheduled for a stress test. It happens periodically, across my back and into my jaw. THANK YOU for your article. I’ve had neck surgery and attribute all my pain to those surgeries. Inflammation caught my eye too, as heart attack causing, that is interesting. When I have the jaw pain I cannot lay down, if I sit up it still hurts but it seems to subside or I just fall back to sleep. I am not treating this lightly, I too have worked in the medical field for 20 years. Lynn

  3. I’ve had pain in my chest that is deep in nature. It radiates to my back and lasts anywhere from 1-5 minutes and goes away. I went to my cardiologist and had 2 stress tests as well as a heart catherization. At 51 my doctor did not dismiss my symptoms. The first stress came back abnormal, then I had the Cath. It was normal. A year later at my next visit I told the doctor that I was still having the chest pain. I had another stress test that was normal. All I know is the pain does not feel normal.

  4. I’ve had symptoms like these several times in the last few years. the typical response I get to my concerns is: ’you’re too young’. I have the sensation on squeezing in my neck, and my airways nearly close if I get upset. I literally cannot talk or breathe. it’s not a panic attack. I feel as if no one takes me seriously, and I think at 44, I’m NOT too young to have heart problems. what is wrong with them, and why won’t they check it out? one episode was even bad enough that the only thing that made the pain and pressure go away was oxygen and aspirin. I don’t know where else to turn, and so I kind of have given up and wait for the real thing to happen and maybe then they’ll listen.

  5. I have been having accoss the shoulders and between the blades pain, plus my throat feels like it is on fire, but I don’t have the flu or a cold. At time it seems like it my laryanix is spasm. It seems to be worse at times and less at times, no difference in if I am doing heavy work or just sitting. It does seem to go away when sleeping. I am suspecting that it is tension. Your thoughts?

  6. Elaine,go to another doctor.

  7. I have had several symptoms such as the difficulty swallowing and indigestion in the middle of my chest 4-5 times. I mentioned this to my G.P. and he is not concerned. The last time it happened was about 3 weeks ago with dizziness, and when I told him of this additional symptom he told me that I was under stress and to try to relax more. How can I verify if these are cardiac symptoms if he determines these are serious enough to pursue?

  8. I had a heart attack at age 51. My angina was in my elbows. In July of 1992 I was living in Kansas with high humidity, rain every other day, I told people my elbows were killing me and they literally were. I was under tremendous stress at the time and smoking. I actually saw my guardian angel that day as well and knew immediately who he was. I am so grateful I was left here to tell other women of my experience.

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