Lifewatch: Women and heart attacks

Reported by Claire Hosmann - email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

(WECT) - Every year, hundreds of thousands of women die from heart attacks or other cardiovascular diseases.

What many people, including many healthcare professionals, don't realize is that the symptoms of heart attack in women are often different than in men.

While men and women both can suffer a heart attack, women may not suffer from the classic symptoms like chest pain.

Because women don't recognize their early warning signs, they may not get medical help quickly enough.

Michelle Williams figured if she was having a heart attack she'd know it. But, the 43-year-old never had chest pain.  Instead, she had what felt like heartburn.

"I look around and I can't find any medicine for indigestion, so I took some mustard. Old remedy. I took a teaspoon of mustard," said Michelle.

The mustard didn't help and her arm began to ache.

"So my husband kept saying, 'You want to go to the hospital?' and I'm like, 'Nah, I'll be okay,'" said Michelle.

But she wasn't okay.  An artery in heart was 80% blocked.

"If it wasn't for the dull ache in my arm, I probably would have laid down and gone to bed," said Michelle.

She made it to the hospital in time for doctors to re-open an artery, but Emory-Crawford Long Cardiologist Dr. Michele Voeltz said too many women don't get help in time.

"Women expect to have that crushing chest pain in the middle of their chest that sort of makes you want to take your fist and crush it against your chest, and that's not what they have," said Voeltz.

Instead, Voeltz said women can feel dizzy, short of breath, fatigued, kind of like they have the flu.  Symptoms so vague they put off getting to the hospital.

According to Voeltz, heart disease strike women just as often as men.

"It is critically important that we get this message out there. Women have to understand this," said Voeltz.

Michelle has gotten the message.  This month she celebrated her 43rd birthday with a promise to herself.

"I have to be stronger. I choose life. I have a 12-year-old and 8-year-old. And I have to be here. I owe them that," said Michelle.

Anytime you experience the symptoms of a heart attack don't delay calling 911.

Every minute that goes by during an attack before receiving treatment significantly lowers your risk of survival.

Always discuss any symptoms you may be experiencing with your health care provider for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.