Heart Attack Signs in Women (Barbara's story)

  I missed all the typical heart attack signs in women. Men's symptoms are well known. Signs of a heart attack may include, a pain radiating up the left arm, tightness in the chest and a shortness of breath. Women's heart attack symptoms are much more subtle.

  .... Not knowing those signs nearly cost me the love of my life!

Barbara before her heart attack
-Skip ahead for Heart Attack Signs


  I'm not sure why I woke up, maybe it's that second sense some couples get when they've been together for as long as Barbara and I have.

I awoke suddenly, as if someone had tossed a bucket of ice water across my body. The room was pitch black. The only sound to be heard was the tick, tick, ticking of the old alarm clock.

No sounds of breathing, no snoring. All the sounds of sleep were completely absent.

"Barb," I said, as panic starting to creep in.

No answer... In the 37 years we've been together, Barbara has never failed to answer when I call for her.

"Barbara!" I yelled.

Flipping on the reading light, fear clenched inside me. Barbara lay on the bed, white as a ghost. Her eyes were wide with fear. "Something's wrong," she croaked. "I don't feel right."

Shhh…... I said, placing my hand on her forehead. She was slick with sweat and clammy. "What's wrong?"

"My stomach," she said. I probably just have the flu."

I relaxed. The flu I could deal with. Scrambling off the bed, I headed to the medicine cabinet. "Here, take this," I said handing her an aspirin and a glass of water. "I want to take your temperature." She couldn't lift her head, I had to do it for her... something definitely was not right, although the thermometer reading was normal.

"I don't think you have the flu," I said. "Maybe it's food poisoning." I went through a quick mental checklist of everything we'd eaten the past couple of days. We'd both eaten the same food and I wasn't sick. "I'm taking you to the hospital."

Barbara shook her head no. I knew she didn't want to be a burden. "I'm making an executive decision," I said, pulling her so her legs swung over the side of the bed. "You don't have a say, now try to stand, slowly hon everything's going to be fine."

She couldn't stand, the ambulance arrived ten minutes later. They told me Barbara was having a heart attack! ....I sat down and cried right there.

They said this as they wheeled her away from me.

My beautiful Barb, with an oxygen mask strapped to her face and her life (and my own) hanging in the balance.


______________



 They said it was a good thing I'd given her the aspirin, and thank god, it looked like she was going to make it alright.

We learned a lot about heart attack signs and heart health once Barbara came home from the hospital.

She had to have a coronary bypass and the recovery was slow. I'm not complaining, it was very hard on her. 

Recovering from a heart attack and coronary bypass surgery is a long and painful process. She's a tough gal though. Feeling pretty lucky to be alive, she hardly ever complained.

We found out how lucky we really were. We learned that heart disease is the number one killer in women. Stroke is number 3. Not breast cancer.

-We also found out that heart attacks kill more women each year, (over 500,000) than all other forms of cancer combined.

-A very good reason to think more seriously about heart attack signs!


Do You Know Your Resting Heart Rate Average?  

   

Risk Factors for Heart Attacks in Women Include:

(Keep in mind that these risk factors, over a period of time, will quite often come before any signs of a heart attack or stroke.) 

-Smoking.- Smoking has been identified as the greatest single risk factor for heart attack symptoms in women.

It is estimated that more than half of the heart attack signs seen in women under the age of 50, are directly related to smoking.

-Unhealthy eating. A diet high in fat and cholesterol can be a major sign for heart attacks in women. It is reported that high cholesterol levels pose a huge risk to women's health, in the form of heart disease and stroke. (cholesterol is a fatty substance found in the human body)

-Chronic hypertension. (high blood pressure) This can be a deadly sign in the risk for heart attack in women. Blood pressure is very important.

-Women should have regular screenings to determine and monitor their blood pressure levels to avoid chronic hypertension.
Reducing sodium (salt) intake can help to maintain proper levels.

-Stress. Reduce stress levels. Learn to manage your stress levels because stress can be a major contributor to strokes. There are many ways to combat stress, such as taking a long walk, enjoying a warm bath, or listening to your favorite music. Even just a 5 minute break can help.

-Increasing Age. Unfortunately, many people believe there's nothing we can do about this one, but if we pay attention to the risk factors for heart disease above, and to the heart attack signs, and try to do something about them, we can make age, much less of an issue.

 We also learned that women's heart attack signs can be very subtle and are often mistaken for the flu. Surprisingly, chest pain is not often reported as one of the women's heart attack symptoms, although most doctors still consider it to be one.


How to Fight the Risk Factors of Heart Disease 

 There's the obvious things NOT to do. Don't smoke and if you do, quit now! Start a healthy diet and cut WAY back on the salt. Reduce your stress level.

 Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly. Many fitness experts recommend 30 - 60 minutes of aerobic exercise at least four times a week including: jogging, brisk walking, cycling, or weight training. Including all the components of physical fitness is important too.

 A recent study found that running just 5 minutes a day could save your life.

-This may not always be practical for many, don't use that as an excuse, do what you can! Know your body mass index, and try to reach for a healthy number you can attain.

Any amount of exercise is healthy, and always makes you feel better and wanting (and more able) to do more. (and a lot easier to take than a future with heart problems!)

Pilates is also a wonderful way to exercise the body and develop long, lean muscle. (before undertaking any exercise program always have a talk with your physician first)

The benefits of exercise can also work wonders with stress levels.

      

      Heart Attack Signs in Women often Include:


  • Unusual fatigue

  • Shortness of breath

  • Sleep disturbances

  • Back or jaw pain

  • Dizziness

  • Upper body discomfort (especially the arms)

  • Nausea, vomiting

  • Chest tightness

  • Clammy skin and sweating

  • Anxiety

  • Upset stomach and heartburn


-Heart treatments, once you've had a heart attack, are typically handled with medication, though an overall change in lifestyle is highly recommended.

For Barbara that meant taking daily walks around the neighborhood. It was good for the both of us. It also meant a healthier diet with less fried food and more vegetables.

After years of fried chicken and gravy as thick as molasses, it was an adjustment for the both of us to make, but it was well worth it to see her heart health, as well as her whole attitude improve.


___________________


  Of course, heart medications were part of her treatment as well. There are many options to treat the heart attack signs and heart disease. Some of the more common treatments include:

-Beta Blockers. This class of medication is used to decrease the workload on the heart and thus lowers the heart rate. It's used to treat both arrythmia, as well as preventing future heart attacks.

-Recently there have been some studies linking beta blockers to type two diabetes, so it's important to ask your doctor questions before you are put on any heart medications.

-Thrombolytic Medicines. Typically given during the heart attack because they dissolve clots in the coronary arteries.

-Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors. Typically used as part of a heart health protocol. They reduce blood pressure, strain on the heart, and help keep the heart muscle from deteriorating.

-Anticoagulants. Basically is what they sound like. They prevent clots from forming in your arteries.

-Antiplatelets. The most common form of antiplatelet is aspirin, and yes, Barbara was put on aspirin therapy. Two baby aspirin a day for the remainder of her long and happy life. Antiplatelets help keep the platelets in your blood from clumping together and forming a clot.



   Moving Forward

 Why am I sharing all of this with you? Because, I don't want you to risk losing your loved ones to a very sneaky and life threatening disease. Heart disease is the number one killer of women. Heart attacks in women are often the first (and all too often the last) sign of heart disease.

-Don't lose your mother, aunt, sister, or your wife because you weren't paying attention to the heart attack signs.-Look for the early signs of a heart attack!

-If you suspect that any of the women in your life are at risk for a heart attack, encourage them to visit a physician. A routine physical may pick up on the early signs of a future heart attack or stroke, like chronic hypertension or an irregular heart beat. (arrythmia)

See our Heart Disease Risk Calculator

A stress test can also be very helpful in finding any potential problems.

-In addition to visiting a physician, encourage the women in your life to exercise and to eat healthy.

Take part in the changes to improve your own health at the same time.

-Don't just think about it, take action, knowledge is power!

-Become educated about women's heart attack signs and symptoms.


-Knowing the common heart attack signs in women may just save,

....the love of your life.



 Know Your Risk of Heart Attack (American Heart Association)


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