Women and heart attacks (Myocardial infarction).
Women rarely have the same dramatic symptoms that men have when experiencing
heart attack (sudden stabbing pain in the chest, the cold sweat etc.)
than 30% reported having chest pain or discomfort prior to their heart
attacks, and 43% reported have no chest pain during any phase of the attack.
This is the experience of
one such person.
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 and 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.
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 my
aorta spasms), gaining speed as they continued racing up and under my
sternum (breast bone, where one presses rhythmically when ministering 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 "Dear God, I
think I'm having a heart attack!"
I lowered the footrest 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, then nobody will know
that I need help, and if I wait any longer I may not be able to get up in a
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 stints 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 stints.
Things to be aware of:
1. Be aware that something very different is happening in your body, not the
usual men's symptoms but inexplicable things happening. 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. Call
the Paramedics if ANYTHING is unpleasantly happening that you've not felt
It is better to have a "false alarm" visitation than to risk your life
guessing what it might be.
2. Call the Paramedics. And if you can , take an aspirin. 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 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 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.