WOMEN AND HEART ATTACKS: Things Every Woman Should Know, and So Should the Men Who Share Their Worlds

Do you know, when women have heart attacks, they seldom experience the same symptoms as men experience. Yet men’s symptoms are well and widely known. We men are told what to watch for early in life. So why are women not told what symptoms and signs they should watch for! Heart attacks are the number one killer of women in the world. If we do not know how to spot them coming, the earlier the better, how can women get the help they need before or when they need it.

Until just recently I had no idea heart attacks for women did not present the same as heart attacks for men. And when I found out, I was furious. Even in the medical world, where women dominate by numbers, most women are not aware of their signs of an oncoming heart attack, or an ongoing heart attack. So how do they, or the men around, them know when to call 911. This is what this post is about, and I hope you will reblog it, or otherwise spread it, to all your friends and readers, and that they will spread it to everyone they know. But let me shut up, and have Suze Hartline tell you about her heart attacks. It was sheer serendipity that I learned all this from Suze, so here is her story in (mostly) her own words. (I took the initiative to edit it just a bit!)

Suze Hartline: Men’s heart attack signs are well known. Women’s symptoms, even though heart attacks are the number one killer of women in the world, are not generally known.
Here they are. I learned these from Dr John Randolf, Oklahoma Heart Hospital director of cardiothoracic surgery after my second heart attack.
1) Angina, but NOT described as  crushing chest pain. Most women describe a “band of pain circling their upper chest directly under their breastbone.” They may think it is simply an upset stomach or gas pains. (Life threatening sign)
2) Sweating: From the waist to the head, sudden onset and dripping.  (Life threatening sign)
3) Nausea/vomiting/diarrhea:  all three occurring simultaneously, sudden onset immediately after sweating. (Life threatening sign)
4) Faintness may occur along with the sweating.
5) Jaw pain on ONE side only. may last several days before the heart attack occurs.
6) NUMBNESS and/or pain in hand that can travel up to the elbow. One arm only. May last WEEKS before a heart attack.

The biggest problem with women recognizing a heart attack is that our symptoms are NOT the same as men’s. 

(For those who might not know, Angina is chest pain or discomfort caused when your heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood. It may feel like pressure or squeezing in your chest. The discomfort also can occur in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back [American Heart Association]. Angina itself may or may not be a heart attack, but can definitely occur during or lead to one. If you experience chest pain as described above, please get help immediately.)

Suze Hartline: I had my first heart attack at age 52.  I had been in excellent health. I had actually run a marathon that spring. I worked full time, and volunteered at a local women’s shelter. I had no idea what I was about to go through.
I spent the morning at water aerobics, after which I got into a hot tub to relax my muscles. A person in my exercise group said I looked a “bit gray.”  I felt fine, so ignored her statement. I had been having numbness in my right hand for about a week, but thought nothing of it. I also had some jaw pain, and had made an appointment with the dentist for later that week. It seemed to be intermittent and I had had trouble with a back tooth a month or so before. I figured it was the same tooth that a temporary filling had been placed in.  Heart attack never occurred to me.
On the drive home I felt a bit nauseous but figured it was because I was hungry and was late with breakfast. After I got home, I started to sweat… a LOT. It occurred to me that it was weird I was sweating only from the waist up… so I took a shower. Afterwards, I experienced explosive diarrhea, along with extreme vomiting.  I felt a bit faint. Again, Heart attack NEVER occurred to me. I thought perhaps it was food poisoning, except I hadn’t eaten anything. It had been two hours since I felt the first symptoms yet I didn’t put it all together.
I laid down to settle my stomach and realized the sweating had begun again…and now I felt a band of pain beginning in the center of my back and traveling around to my lower chest. I began to think I’d better call 911 and speak to someone who could put it all together for me. I got up and walked to the living room to call.
I called 911 and stated my name and address, then told the operator about the different symptoms I was having. But before I could speak any further, I became extremely faint and fell to the floor. I remember thinking as I was falling “I am going to die.”
I woke up in a helicopter for a brief moment. The technician was yelling “she’s got tombstones!” … The next time I woke up was in the heart hospital AFTER surgery. Successful surgery, luckily.
 My surgeon said I was extremely lucky as my heart was blocked 99% in two major arteries, and one other was 100% blocked.  I had gone into fibrillation (where the heart simply shakes instead of pumping blood), thus the tombstones on the ekg. He said if the EMT’s hadn’t arrived exactly when they did I would NOT have been alive long enough for any surgery to save me.
I was honestly amazed it was my heart that was the problem. I KNEW the signs of heart attack and which order they occurred, except what I KNEW was in MEN.  I had been discounting all the signs because they didn’t fit what I had learned. My husband, who is a CARDIAC intensive care RN DIDN’T KNOW EITHER! I had been telling him all the weird symptoms I had been having and it never occurred to him that they were heart related.
At least I knew the symptoms when I had my second heart attack, and I got to a doctor at the FIRST sign. A simple procedure to break a clot was all it took to fix the problem. I now take medication to keep my blood from clotting so easily. AND, I now get immediate help instead of waiting for something “big enough to bother a doctor with.”

Suze is a very lucky and a very special person. She lived to tell her tale. But no one listens to it. Why not? Women are half the people on this planet. A great number are going to experience heart attacks, and many of them are going to die because they and the people around them DO NOT KNOW what to look for!

Well, now you do. Please do something to help spread this information. No one else seems to care…

An afterthought: There is information on the world wide web about women’s heart attack symptoms, but not as much as I thought there should be. And if you do not know it is there, you are NOT going to go looking for it. Also, when you do look, if you do, the information is presented matter-of-factly, and has no urgency to it. Heart attacks are URGENT! They are life and death urgent. Please learn these signs and symptons, and make sure everyone around you learns them too. You never know who will need help, or when they will need it.

A second afterthought: While researching this topic on the internet, I came across an article asking why more women have not heard of women’s heart attack symptoms. That writer thought this knowledge was important then. Unfortunately, I did not think to bookmark the article, and I cannot remember how I got to it. That is not important. What is important, that article was published in 2018. It is only three years later, but still hardly anyone knows. THAT MUST CHANGE! Please, be the change.