Lifewatch: Heart Attacks

WILMINGTON -- You could be having a heart attack and not know it, because the symptoms aren't always what you expect.

A lot of people assume eating right, exercising, and staying away from smoking are the only things you can do to protect yourself from a heart attack, but there is more to know than that.

Hotel reservation manager, Elizabeth Hein was 27, an avid runner and healthy.  Something about her heart didn't feel quite right.

"I was constantly aware of my heart working that would wake up in the middle of the night with pain from my heart," said Hein.

Another subtle sign she was having a heart attack, was when her fingernails had turned blue.

But, her doctors didn't believe it.

"And he throws the curtain back and says, 'You can't be having a heart attack what drugs are you taking?" said Hein.

Northwestern Cardiologist Charles Davidson said the signs of trouble may not be what you expect, especially in women and younger patients.

"The heart can often have no symptoms at all or it can have atypical symptoms. You could have sometimes a jaw discomfort or back pain or pain in what we call the epigastrom, just under where your stomach would be," said Dr. Charles Davidson, a cardiologist.

Davidson said that is partly why half of all people who have a heart attack will die outside the hospital.

If symptoms last more than 30 minutes, especially if you have a family history, you should get checked out.

Hein wishes her own mother had insisted on getting heart tests when doctors said she was fine.

She died of a heart attack.  Her only symptoms were water retention and back pain.

Pay attention to your body, even the subtle things can be clues to something bigger.  When in doubt, head to the doctor.

Reported by Kristy Ondo