Friday, April 23, 2010

Heart Attacks In Women

I almost lost my best friend during the Easter weekend.

She had spent the week as most of us do -- cleaning, shopping, cooking and generally preparing for the holiday weekend.  She was feeling fine, perhaps a little tired, perhaps a little "under the weather" as she suffers from Spring time allergies and would often get slight sinus headaches this time of the year.

We did our normal 2 mile walk together around the park on a Friday morning, as we do most mornings for exercise. She was excited her daughter was coming home for a visit, and as we parted in the parking lot we happily wished each other a good holiday. It could have been the last time I saw her!

Late that evening she had dozed off sitting in the couch, when all of a sudden an odd sensation woke her up.  Her chest felt on fire.  She described it to me as if the sun suddenly burst in her chest.  Her arms went heavy.  She knew something was seriously wrong but walked up the steps to the second floor of her house to wake her husband and she told him to get dressed as she needed to go to the hospital.  He asked what was wrong and then asked her if she wanted to take something first and rest awhile and see if it helped.  Thank God my friend knew she couldn't risk this and told him she thought she should go right away to the hospital.  Luckily, they live two blocks away from a small community hospital and her husband drove her up to the emergency room where she then collapsed.  In a flurry of motion she was whisked inside where they found her heart rate and blood pressure were dangerously low -- she was having a heart attack!  The nurses and doctors furiously began emergency treatment.  A cardiologist on call came in and told her she was going to be transferred to a hospital in Manhattan where cardiac cauterization would take place immediately on arrival. "Don't worry," he told her, "We are going to save your life! The ambulance whisked her through traffic from Brooklyn into Manhattan, where the small community hospital is affiliated, and two cardiac stents were placed into my friend's heart's almost totally occluded artery.  She would live to joke with me on the phone on Easter Sunday and give praise at how life gave her a second chance.

What were the warnings signs before this event?  Not many. Many times the first signs of heart disease is a heart attack. My friend is fit, trim and strong.  She never experienced shortness of breath or chest pain.  Her cholesterol was within normal limits, maybe slightly high by today's stricter standards.   She had found out she had high blood pressure only six months prior but it was being controlled by medication.   She exercises and doe not smoke or drink.  But even with good lifestyle women after menopause are more susceptible to developing heart disease, and there are other risk factors such as family history, taking birth control pills, being exposed to second hand smoke, etc.

With any severe episode of chest pain or discomfort it is imperative to go to an emergency room and tell them right away you are having chest pain, which my friend did, and this is what ultimately saved her life!
photo source

According to The National Institute of Health , heart disease is the number one killer of women, yet women are more likely to delay in seeking emergency treatment.

"Women should learn the heart attack warning signs. These are:
  • Pain or discomfort in the center of the chest.
  • Pain or discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Other symptoms, such as a shortness of breath, breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.
As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

If you feel heart attack symptoms, do not delay. Remember, minutes matter! Do not wait for more than a few minutes–5 minutes at most–to call 9-1-1. Your family will benefit most if you seek fast treatment."

The pamphlet "The Heart Truth for Women" can be ordered from The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute that gives information on the causes of women’s heart disease and practical suggestions for reducing your own personal risk of heart-related problems.  It can also be viewed and downloaded for free online in PDF form at this link.
The Mayo Clinic web site also has good information about possible symptoms of heart attack in women, which can sometimes be as vague as unusual or unexplained fatigue.  You can also look at risk factors and prevention tips on their web site.
photo source

Let's do all we can to improve our lifestyles to prevent heart disease and to remember to call 911 and go to a hospital at the first sign of unusal discomfort.  It can save your life!

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Unknown said...

this is a very important reminder! i am so happy your friend is doing well. what a blessing.-christy

Old Kitty said...

Oh my goodness Pat!

What a thing to happen! Good grief! Your poor friend and her family!

I am so glad she is ok now, I am so glad she acted swiftly and was taken straight to the hospital. I'm so glad to hear she was saved and given that all important second chance!

I think it's doubly shocking for me to realise that this has happened to her even when she is as fit and as healthy as she can ever be.

thanks for the pdf link. I've saved it on my hard drive - I've read the first 20 pages and am scaring myself silly now! LOL. but it's info that I need to know!

Take care

Annalisa said...

Oh dear,
what a story!
We should really be aware of all these risks and try to improve our lifestyles with healthy food and some exercises, especially after a certain age, it is important to take good care of yourself!
A very informative post, thanks for sharing.

Allie and Pattie said...

Pat, thank you! I just signed on for the first time all week (Allie's Confirmation!) and saw this. As you know I'm a personal trainer- 50 years old and in very good shape. 5 months ago I had a heart attack while in the gym training a client. 2 things saved my life- my general fitness level and the fact that a crew from the fire department next door was actually in the gym working out. One of those wonderful guys recognized what was happening and had my client call the paramedics immediately. No one else even considered a heart attack because of my conditioning and the symptoms being so different from what they would have expected. VERY good post!
xoxo Pattie

WhiteStone said...

Glad your friend went immediately to the hospital. Your message is a clear illustration of how cautious women should be in regards to heart pain.

RNSANE said...

I am so happy that your friend acted quickly and that she was able to get medical care immediately which saved her life. One thing I might add to your wonderful list is that, at the first sign of chest pain, take a low dose, non-enteric coated aspirin if you have no contraindication to this. It is something you should discuss with you doctor before the need arises.
There is a good FDA article on aspirin use at:

I know that, before I leave on a long flight, I take a non enteric coated aspirin and repeat this every four hours I am flying as well - this is for its antiembolic properties.

Sniff said...

So glad to hear the story ended well for you and your friend!

Wildflowerhouse said...

I am very happy your friend will be ok. Thank you for the very informative reminder to us all about what to look for.

Vee said...

Thank you for giving us this powerful message. I'm so glad that your friend is with you still. I know that she'll be happy to have her story told as it can certainly save lives. I'll follow your good orders should anything like this ever happen to me or anyone near me.

The Gathering Place said...

How scary! You wouldn't think someone so "healthy" would be a candidate for a heart attack. I guess we are all vulnerable. I'm so glad that she got help in time.

Judy said...

Thanks, Pat...we need to hear this message! I'm so glad your story had a happy ending.

A Bit of the Blarney said...

Excellent post!!! Wishing you and your dear friend well!

Jay said...

I'm so pleased to hear your friend survived and is OK! Scary for everyone.

I do worry about heart attack. Though I never have smoked, I'm unfit, have high blood pressure and find it hard to keep weight off. But with fibromyalgia, plus acid reflux, if I went to the hospital every time I had pain in my chest, arms, back, neck or jaw, or felt nauseous, I might as well move in. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do, but I guess I'll figure it out. I certainly hope so! ;)

Joanne Kennedy said...

I'm so happy to hear your friend didn't wait to get to the hospital.

My mom died from heart problems and I'll never forget one time we were at the movies and she told me she didn't feel good. Couldn't really say what was wrong. But she didn't want to leave the movie. When the movie was over I asked her if she was ok and she said "I just feel funny but I think I'm ok". So I took her to the store. Then I took her home.

Well that night she called to say she was still not feeling right and wanted to go to the hospital. It turned out she was having a heart attack and had no idea. It wasn't the normal pain one would think you would have.

I felt so guilty not taking her sooner. But, neither of us thought it was a heart attack.

Thankfully she lived but a few years later she did pass away from heart damage.

It's a scary thing.


~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

Thanks for sharing this important information. I use the Mayo Clinic website to look up symptoms for anything and everything! Thanks for sharing this story and for making a difference! ♥

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Good advice RNSANE. It is good to dicuss the emergency use of asprin first with your doctor, before the need arises. Not everyone should take it.

Debbiedoos said...

Pat thanks for sharing this heart felt yet very scary story. Women versus mens symptoms are different. Thank God she went to the hospital and did not disregard this.

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Wow Pat - Such an important post for us all to read. I'm so glad your friend is going to be ok. What a lesson for us all. said...

Oh my gosh this is pretty scary. Thank God your friend is so smart to have listened to her instincts and made sure she got to the hospital and just in time!
God bless the nurses and doctors that saved her life too.

GardenOfDaisies said...

I'm so glad your friend is going to be OK. How scary that it just came out of the blue with no warning!!
I am working on being a healthier me.

Unknown said...

Hi Pat,

Thank you for posting this, it is so true that symptoms in women are different. I am glad that she is okay.

Pat, I stopped by to say Congratulations. I got my copy of the Pink Saturday article when I picked up a copy of Artful Blogging yesterday. There was a beautiful photograph from you in the article. I couldn't contain my joy when I saw my little watercolor too. Bev announced the article today and I wrote a post about it for Pink Saturday.


Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Pat, I'm so glad to hear that your friend knew to go to the hospital right away and I'm also relived to hear she is doing well. A lot of women only think men get heart attacks - not true. Thank you for making us aware that this can happen to you and what to do.

I'll be thinking of your friend as she recovers.

diane b said...

What a scary thing to happen. How smart she was to seek help quickly. It must have been such a shock to you as you both walk and keep fit. Thanks for the warning and reminder.

Just a little something from Judy said...

How crucial it is that you shared this info. I do admit I have a new appreciation for the "heart" and the importance of taking care of it. Thank God your friend's life was spared and that she is there with you. Thanks you for sharing her story.

Carol said...

So very glad this story had a happy ending for your friend (and you!) Thanks for the post, great message for us all! It's very scary and glad your friend went straight to the hospital!

Helen said...

Dear Pat,
Thank you for bringing this important information to every reader's attention .... good to know you still have your friend ~ and hope you will for years to come.

Pat said...

... and one more thank you for posting this important message! So glad all is well for your friend.

Tracy said...

Oh, Pat... I'm just so glad your friend is alive and well! Thank you for this great reminder post. As women, I think many of us forget our risk factors for heart attacks. What's scary is that a person can be leading healthy lives and then be shocked with an attack. This was sobering, informative and empowering. Have a good weekend, my friend :o) ((HUGS))

Carol Murdock said...

Pat, it's wonderful that your friend listened to her own instincts instead of her husbands advice!! I'm so happy for you all that she got that second chance! :)

steviewren said...

It's scary that something like this can happen so swiftly without warning signs. I'm sure you and she are both thankful that she got help so fast.

Happy@Home said...

I am so glad to hear that your friend is doing well after her heart attack. She was very wise to seek medical help immediately. Your post today is very informative and contains a message all women should read. Thank you for that.
I used to think that if we were thin, ate right, exercised and didn't smoke we didn't have to worry about these things. My sister was all those things and still had a massive stroke. It has made me look at things differently.

La Petite Gallery said...

What a wonderful post for us all.
I am glad to hear your friend is fine. Two Christmas's ago I had a cat scan it showed I had a huge blockage in the bottom of my heart. I was sent 2 hr's drive to
Portland Maine. I had a catheter
up my groin he said nothing wrong.
My leg hurt for weeks, still hurts.
I am arthritic so my arm hurts,
my back hurts. I get heart burn and pain in the middle of my chest.
Jaw pain cause I had so much implants. Mercy, how will I ever tell. LOL yvonne

Carole Burant said...

Oh, Pat, I'm so glad to hear that your friend survived her heart attack!! Too often we women tend to ignore certain signs and don't act on it. She was very smart to make her husband bring her straight to the clinic. She is indeed one of the lucky ones. My dad's mom was coming out of the doctor's office when she had a major heart attack and died right there on the sidewalk...the doctor had no idea that she was at risk, nothing showed up on her physical!! Thank you for all the info. xoxo

Brenda said...

So sorry about your friend, Pat, but so glad she got to the hospital in time. (Thanks for posting the symptoms!)

Tracy Watier said...

Thanks for this post, Pat. It must have been hard for you to write - thinking about losing your friend. I'm so happy her situation turned out to be a "best case scenario" if that can be said of a heart attack. I had a very serious scare myself two years ago and should be doing a lot more to make sure that the same thing or something worse doesn't happen again. Thanks for the reminder to get my act together.

Vee said...

Just popping back in to say thank you for posting the giveaway button! Hope that all your blogging buds will find it and sign up, too!

Anonymous said...

How frightening. . . and how informative! Thank you! ! I'll send this link to many people!

My name is Riet said...

I am happy that your friend is better now. Good of you to remind us what can happen and what to do about it. Thank you.
And Pat I want to congratulate you with your picture in Artful blogging. Mine is in there too and of course I am so thrilled.
Have a nice Sunday.

PAT said...

Excellent post, Pat.

Thanks so much for doing this. Very important!

People Who Know Me Would Say: said...

I was so sorry to hear your best friend had experienced her brush with death.

I'm so glad she's doing well and I'm very thankful you shared this post with us.

This is an always timely point to get across to women because so many people think that the symptoms of a heart attack are chest pain or left arm pain......

wosnes said...

I had a similar experience 15 years ago shortly after Thanksgiving. No prior symptoms or warning signs with the possible exception of fatigue -- and a lot of stress. All other indicators (B/P, cholesterol, etc) were normal to low. I had one artery with a small blockage and was treated with angioplasty only. I did have a very rocky period for a few days immediately following the procedure.

Remember the old Jane Fonda exercise tapes where she talks about "going for the burn?" That's the only way I've ever been able to describe the pain I had initially. It did get worse over time (several hours), but that was what I felt initially. I think the only reason I got to the hospital so quickly was because I saw myself in a mirror. I was ashen and clammy. I'm an R.N. I'd seen that in the past.

About 10 years later I had some problems with complications from where my heart was damaged during the heart attack, but all in all, I've done very well.

My cardiologist at the time put me on Dr. Ornish's diet. While it worked in terms of my health, it was a disaster for me in terms of my life -- and my family's ability to deal with it. About 5 years ago I started eating few processed foods, including reduced fat anything, and more meat and fat than I'd eaten in 10 years. Interestingly, my cholesterol fell! It's continued to drop a little more each year. I am on a very low dose of a statin, but I think the diet has more to do with the low cholesterol than the medication (this is from years of observing others on statins and watching what they eat).

I have nothing to prove this, but I think that processed/manufactured foods in our diets has more to do with our cholesterol levels and atherosclerosis than saturated fat does. It's just a hunch and based on my own experience.

I'm glad your friend is doing well.

Kathleen said...

Thank God she is ok. They do say to take aspirin right away if you even think you are having one.
My dad died at 50 of one. I always worry.
See, even though your friend did all the right things, it can happen.
My dh had a stroke at 53, you never met a fitter guy..but it still happened, a bleed, not a clog..
I guess we just have to be happy everyday we wake up!
Hope your friend is 100% better soon!

GailO said...

what a well written, heartfelt, important story to have shared here with us Pat...I'm thrilled that your friend is ok...thank you for bringing up this important topic...

I just need to say here too how much I enjoyed visiting the BBG with you for the past week...all your photos are wonderful!

Jojo said...

Pat, That is frightening and you think living the healthy lifestyle wards off the risks. I'm so glad that she had the urge to go straight to the hospital instead of waiting to see what might happen. Obviously she was left on this earth for a purpose.

Donna said...

Wow, Pat, I'm so glad to hear your friend is ok. What a scare. Thanks for all the good info.


Lynn said...

We can never be reminded of this enough! I'm so glad you still have your good friends company!
Thanks for stopping by to say Hi!

CatHerder said...

omg thank god she is ok.....i get frequent chest pains (anxiety) and dont know if i would even know if something was really so glad your friend is ok!

Sara said...

Thanks for the reminder! I went through a bad scare in the last couple of weeks - not knowing I was diabetic - and had blood sugars of 627 - I was lucky that I was at the hospital doing pre-op stuff for my surgery tomorrow...someone wants me around a little longer...

Just like your friend!

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Thank you for telling us about your experience, Wosnes. I do agree we should avoid processed foods as much as possible for a healthier diet.

I hope you will feel better soon Sara! That was quite a scare!

Thank you all for your comments! I will tell my friend that giving the details of her heart attack experience may one day save someone else's life!

Proud Italian Cook said...

Wow Pat, I'm so glad your friend is ok and acted quickly on her instincts! A good lesson for us all.
Thanks for this informative post!

Claudia said...

Heart disease runs in my family. Grand post - grander because your friend is all right and could hare the holiday with you. And welcome reminder to all.

Betsy Banks Adams said...

Very good info --for ALL of us, Pat. Yesterday--I had stomach pain which almost sent me to the hospital. I was truly afraid. However, it did pass and today, I am much much better. It must have been some kind of virus for sure.

But---none of us need to ignore the symptoms of heart disease... Glad your friend is OKAY..