Today is my 61st birthday. I don't feel old. When I look in the mirror I don't see an old person, I see a woman with some years on her - some good years. I am happy with my life (although I wouldn't mind being a little more financially secure). I have a wonderful family, a good job and a lot of things that interest me and keep me busy. February is National Heart Health Month and I've learned a few things.
And last week I learned how quickly life can change. While talking on the phone at work, I started to have some chest pains - I don't mean gas pains - I mean put the phone down this really hurts pain. After a couple of rounds I got clammy and hot, then cold - and my neck and left shoulder blade had a dull ache. But, it can't be my heart! I just saw my doctor. My labs looked pretty good. I'm loosing weight and exercising.
I called a friend who recently had "small" heart attack and turns out she has a heart condition. I asked her what it felt like and she told me to call my doctor immediately. I did. They told me to go to the ER and don't drive myself - uhm - I'm already in my car and almost to my eye appointment - half way home. So off I went to get my husband to turn around and drive me back to where I had started.
To make a long story short - three hours in the ER and they couldn't tell me a lot. The only indication of a heart attack was a possible left atrial enlargement and an abnormal ECG. AND it all could be caused by an esophageal spasm - GERD. So they sent me home with a prescription for acid reflux and a notice to make an appointment with a cardiologist within two days - except they can't fit me in until four week later.
UPDATE: it was not a heart attack.
What have I learned from this (so far)? Women's heart health is different than a man's. When we have a heart attack, it often presents itself different and different than the symptoms we've all come to know as a possible heart attack (those were taken from a man's response).
First - don't ever think everything is fine just because you feel fine and are eating right and exercising. Always get a check up and follow your doctor's directions - that's not to say you shouldn't question what you don't understand. That is to say, make sure you understand the whys of the instructions you are following. And don't think if you do all these things it won't happen to you!
Second - be aware of the classic symptoms for a woman - they are:
1. Chest pain - and women feel this different than men. It may not be just on the left side. It is usually a pressure. It is not necessarily "pain" but a deep "discomfort". For me it felt like there was a huge air bubble in my chest pushing from the inside and it was almost totally central (although slightly to the left).
2. Sometimes pain in the left arm, but also, often, pain in the neck, back, and jaw. It may be gradual or it may be sudden. Mine was light but constant for several hours.
3. Stomach pain - it could feel like heart burn or the flu, but often more of a pressure - like someone sitting on your belly.
4. Light headed, short of breath, dizzy - if this is unusual for you or it is happening in conjunction with other symptoms, you may be having a heart attack.
5. Sweaty - Not like you just worked out or you're hot sweat, a nervous sweat - or as I felt, a "cold" sweat. Then I got hot - then I got cold.
6. Fatigue - Tired, even when sitting. I've been experiencing this for weeks. There are other factors that we have been looking at as well, but it could have been an indication that my body has not been circulating oxygen as it should.
You may not have all these symptoms, but if you have any of them along with chest pain, get to the ER. It may be nothing. And it may save your life.