A Woman’s Heart Is Different

On the afternoon of October 15, 2009 I was gathering my papers and getting ready to go to the bank to make my company’s deposits. I rummaged through my purse – thinking do I have everything? Cheques, grocery list… aware that I had a lot to get done before picking up my son from school at 4:15pm. I thought if I’m really fast, maybe I can even squeeze in the dry cleaner too… oh and wine for dinner, it’s Friday night…

As I left my office, I felt a sharp pain in my left ear and throughout my jaw. I thought gosh that’s weird, maybe I’m getting the flu…I will have to rest later, no time now. My little voice persisted “get your list done.”

I got into the car and backed out of the driveway, it happened again. It was painful enough to make me actually stop the car. The pain was intense but quick. I thought, geez I must be getting sick. No time, gotta go and get these things done! I will rest later.

Waiting in line at the bank, I started to feel sweaty, actually wet around my collar and in my hair, wet in the back of my shirt, under my arms, nauseous and dizzy. This was not normal for me, much to my best friend’s disgust, I could run a 5k and not sweat, just put my suit back on and go back to work. Again, my thoughts went to the flu, better get everything done before I’m really ill.

I needed to sit and get some air. It became difficult to breathe.
It was almost my turn at the bank, I decided to continue waiting…
My turn finally came, and I rushed out once I had made the deposit. I was worried I would be sick. Of course, it was pouring rain and I couldn’t make it to the car. I spotted a bench across the street, where I finally collapsed. Seated, alone, I needed to be sick, I couldn’t even hold my phone, my arms become so weak. And I worried – I’m soaking wet in the pouring rain, this can’t be good for my flu…

I called someone to come and get me…

I was a healthy 40-year-old woman and I was having a heart attack.

HEART ATTACK SYMPTOMS FOR WOMEN ARE DIFFERENT THAN MEN

When we think of a heart attack, most of us immediately get an image of a man pressing his hand on his chest where his heart is; and complaining of a numb left arm. Before he finishes his sentence 911 is called and an ambulance is on its way.

1 in 3 women loses their life to heart disease or stroke. More than all cancers combined, Heart Disease is the #1 killer of women.

Understanding your risk factors and possible symptoms could save your life.

For women, the experience of a heart attack CAN look a little different.

Women are more likely than men to experience atypical symptoms, particularly unusual fatigue, anxiety, shortness of breath, indigestion, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain. Since these symptoms can mirror everyday maladies and are often subtler, they can be easier to misdiagnose.

Warning signs of a heart attack:

  • Chest discomfort: a feeling of pressure, squeezing, fullness, pain, burning or heaviness
  • Discomfort or pain in other areas of the body: neck, jaw, shoulder, arms, back or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Nausea or gastrointestinal issues
  • Lightheaded
  • Unusual fatigue

Heart disease is a largely preventable disease. By making changes in your daily habits and understanding your risk factors, you can make a difference to your future health.

I did have a heart attack that day. My household came to a halt, everything stopped when I stopped. As women, we are busy taking care of everyone else and sometimes we make excuses for our own health issues.

As women, we must be empowered to take control of our health and ask our healthcare professionals to help us be proactive in preventing disease.

Susan Rodrigues
Women’s Heart Health Advocate