An email has been circulating recently that describes one woman’s experience of a heart attack. The symptoms she experienced might surprise you. There is none of the drama that we see in films: stabbing pains in the chest, clutching at the heart and falling to the floor in a cold sweat. These symptoms are experienced by men, but rarely by women.
The woman in the email (a nurse) was relaxing in a chair with her cat when she had the heart attack; she records no prior exertion and no emotional trauma that might account for the attack. Her first symptom was the sensation of indigestion, despite having not eaten for over four hours. After that subsided, “little squeezing motions” raced up her spine and under her breast bone, spreading to her throat and jaws. At this point, she realized that she was having a heart attack. She managed to make her way to the phone where she phoned for an ambulance and explained to the paramedics what was happening. They told her to unlock the front door, if possible, and lie on the floor nearby so that they could find her easily. She did that, then lost consciousness. She was taken to hospital where she had surgery and recovered to report her experience.
This woman’s experience highlights two key points we all need to understand about female heart attacks.
1) The symptoms are not those we know from films. The NHS emphasises that “not everyone experiences severe chest pain; the pain can often be mild and mistaken for indigestion”. We all need to learn to recognise the symptoms of female heart attacks.
2) When a heart attack strikes, time is of the essence. The woman in the story above had phoned the paramedics within 5 minutes of her symptoms starting. She was then rushed to a hospital just minutes from her home and taken straight to the operating theatre, by which time her heart had already stopped.
If you think you are having a heart attack, phone 999 immediately.
If possible, take some aspirin.
Call for an ambulance even if you’re not sure about the symptoms. As it says on the NHS website: “Paramedics would rather be called out to find an honest mistake has been made than be too late to save a person’s life.”
The nurse who descried her heart attack emphasises that others women’s symptoms might not be identical to hers. She advises women to call for an ambulance if they experience any unpleasant symptoms that they’ve not had before.
Don’t assume it can’t be a heart attack because you have a normal cholesterol count. Research has shown that high cholesterol is rarely the cause of a heart attack.
Finally, if you think you’re having a heart attack, don’t try to drive yourself to hospital. You’ll be a hazard to other people on the road.
To read more about heart attacks in men and women, see the NHS Heart Attack webpages.
NHS quotations above are taken from these webpages, accessed 12/11/2015.