Neissa and I recently sat down with the amazing women of the Austin-area Go Red for Women campaign and had a fascinating conversation about heart disease among women. We were both completely taken aback when we heard the story of a healthy Austin woman, in her mid-40’s, who was complaining to a friend of hers that she was feeling sluggish and flu-like, with cold sweats and lightheadedness when her friend encouraged her to go to the hospital, suspecting something unusual. There, she quickly learned that those were actually the signs of a heart attack!
We, like most, were already aware of the most well-known heart attack symptoms (chest pain & radiating discomfort in the left arm), but had no idea that there was a whole other host of symptoms to be aware of — including flu-like symptoms. On top of that, the fact that the woman was a healthy and active 40-something was a definite wake-up call! We walked away from that eye-opening lunch realizing that heart disease is not something to write off just because you might exercise regularly and eat healthy, nor does it always show itself through the ‘obvious’ signs. This was something to help spread the word about.
So, given that it’s Heart Month, we want to share the lesser known symptoms of heart disease — because information is power. The more we know, the more confident we can be in helping catch something early in ourselves and in those around us. So pay close attention, this info can help save precious lives!
There are ways other than the commonly known heart attack symptoms that your body may tell you when something isn’t quite right, potentially with your heart. Here are four silent heart attack symptoms that women should most definitely be aware of:
1. Shortness of breath
Women often struggle to breathe a few weeks before experiencing a heart attack. “If you are used to doing a certain amount of activity and then, all of a sudden, you can’t get enough air, that is when I get concerned,” says Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of The Heart and Vascular Institute at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
2. Back pain:
Irregular pain in the lower or upper back can indicate stress to the heart muscle.
3. Jaw pain:
“I had one patient who would feel her jaw start to hurt every time she got on a treadmill,” Steinbaum says. “But once she stopped, her jaw pain would go away. She went to a dentist, but there wasn’t anything wrong with her teeth.” This discomfort continued until the woman experienced a heart attack. When she came into Steinbaum’s office after the event, it was evident that the jaw pain was directly linked to what was happening in her heart. “Sometimes the heart isn’t able to give a good signal and, instead, the pain can radiate to the neck, jaw and back,” she says.
Flu-like symptoms are often reported weeks and days before a heart attack. In fact, as Steinbaum explains, TV personality Rosie O’Donnell reportedly regurgitated a few times before she experienced a heart attack in early 2012.
Dr. Steinbaum’s Advice:
Trust Your Gut: If you aren’t feeling normal or are experiencing any of the symptoms above, head to you local emergency room. It is better to take care of yourself and prevent damage to your heart, in the event you are having a heart attack.
“Hard-to-Recognize Heart Attack Symptoms,” “Symptoms of a Heart Attack,” http://www.goredforwomen.org;