Most people think that the symptoms for heart attacks in women are the same for everyone, both men and women. Not so, says Diane K., an ER Nurse who recently experienced her first heart attack. Being a nurse, Diane was aware that the symptoms were different for men and women and has written about her experience to help other women learn to recognize the symptoms and be able to react quickly enough to avert disaster.
Diane reports that women rarely have the same dramatic symptoms that men incur when having a heart attack. The sudden stabbing pain, the cold sweat, grapping the chest and the collapse to the floor as seen in movies is more for dramatic effect and rarely happens to women.
This is the story of one women's experience with a sudden heart attack and has been recorded here to help other women learn to recognize an impending attack and to get help fast.
Diane's heart attack happened about 10:30 PM with No exertion and No prior emotional trauma which is usually responsible. She was sitting quietly at home, warm and snug on a cold evening with her cat sitting in her lap. She was reading a book with her feet propped up in her Lazy Boy recliner thinking, "Ahh, this is the life, all warm and cozy."
She goes on to say, "A moment later I began to feel an 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's most uncomfortable. You realize you should not have gulped it down so fast and (you) 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 Diane hadn't taken a bite of anything since about five hours earlier. Gradually, this symptom seemed to subside only to be replaced with another. This next symptom was like little squeezing motions that felt like they were racing up her spine. (In hindsight, she says, it was probably her Aorta having spasms.) These spasms began gaining speed as they continued racing up and under her sternum, the area of the breastbone where one presses when applying the rhythmic CPR.
The process continued on up into her throat and then branched out into both sides of her jaws. "AHA!" she said to herself, " Now I stopped puzzling about what was happening." Diane realizes with some certainty that she was having a heart attack, the pain in the jaws being one of the most important, and definitive signs.
(Also known as MI - myocardial infarction, which is usually the result of long-term stress and inflammation in the body, which dumps all sorts of deadly hormones into the system to sludge up the works. Pain in the jaw can wake you in the middle of a sound sleep. Be careful and be aware. The more you know the better chances you have of surviving.)
As this sudden knowledge hits her, Diane begins to take the necessary steps that will save her life. She lowers the footrest and dumps the cat on the floor. As she takes her first few steps, she felt herself falling to the floor. She thought to herself that, if this is a heart attack, she shouldn't be walking, but the next room was where the phone was and she needed to call for help. She knew that it was imperative that she get help fast.
Diane pulled herself up with the aide of a chair and slowly walked into the next room where she called 911. She told the woman that answered that she thought she was having a heart attack due to the pressure that was building under her sternum, and that the pain was radiating into her jaws. Diane remained calm. She didn't feel hysterical or afraid, just related the facts to the woman on the phone. The woman said she was sending the paramedics immediately, that Diane should make sure the door was unlocked, and that she should lie down on the floor where they could see her. Diane did as she was instructed and then promptly lost consciousness.
She did not remember the paramedics coming in or examining her, placing her on the gurney or putting her into the ambulance. Nor, did she hear the call they'd made to St. Jude. She awakened briefly, once they had arrived at the hospital, to see the Cardiologist standing over her in his blue surgical gown and cap. His questions of what medications she might be on floated over her in a fog as her mind was not able to understand them or respond to them. She then drifted back into the void of unconsciousness.
Diane did not waken again until after the Cardiologist and his team had threaded the tiny angiogram balloon into her femoral artery and up into the Aorta, then into her heart. Once there the doctors installed 2 side by side stints to hold open her right coronary artery.
As she looks back on the incident, Diane says that it felt as if it had taken 20 to 30 minutes before calling the Paramedics. But, in fact, it only took 4-5 minutes. She was fortunate in that both the fire station and the hospital were only minutes from her home and her Cardiologist just happened to already be in his scrubs ready to go into the O.R. ready to restart her heart, which had stopped beating somewhere between her arrival and the procedure of installing the stints.
Diane states that she wants all those who are important in her life to know first hand what she has learned. Below are some important fact to remember.
1. Be aware that something very different is happening in your body. (Her sternum and jaw got into the act.) It is said that many more women than men die of their first heart attack because they commonly mistake their symptom for indigestion, taking a heartburn medication and then going to bed hoping they will feel better when they wake up, which doesn't happen. She advises all her female friends to call the Paramedics immediately if anything unusual is happening to their bodies that they have not felt before. It is better to have a false alarm that to risk your life trying to guess what it might be.