Real Advice about Heart Attacks in Women

As moms we are always told we have to take care of ourselves not for our own sake anymore but for our children. Maybe it’s because we are so socialized to minimize ourselves and care for others. So this makes caring for ourselves not selfish but again an act of selfless mothering. How ridiculous. Just take care of yourself and love yourself.

Okay get off the soapbox and just give the facts Shar. I don’t know about you but I always get confused by health advice that’s too general like “fatigue and dizziness.” Because it’s so general I end up dismissing it altogether. Recently Susie Bright wondered in her blog if Whitney Houston’s death was caused by, like millions of other women, a heart attack. Why would she have a heart attack? DRUGS? Or because heart disease is the #1 killer of women. Susie was disgusted by the media’s need to be judge and jury over Whitney.

I had heart issues on my mind anyway so reading Susie’s blog inspired me to offer up what I have recently learned yes watching the DR. OZ SHOW.

When the 6 o’clock news HEALTH correspondent reports”light-headedness or nausea could be a heart attack,”I’m like really? Really? The women in my Tennessee family fainted all the time. I was raised to think that getting light-headed, or muttering “hold me I’m going down” as you reach out your arms was no more noticeable than  a new scarf: you might comment on it or mention it at the dinner table or, then again, not.

I was so grateful that recently Dr. Oz put up the symptoms for heart attacks in women AND THAT he gave some practical advice on discerning differences in some of these common occurrences.

Here are Dr. Oz’s symptoms of a heart attack that women should never ignore

  •  Jaw, neck, and shoulder pain
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms such as indigestion, nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness, sweating, weakness
  • Unusual overwhelming fatigue

See what I mean? Any one of those could be related to anything from a bad burrito to finding out your Ex is in town!

I was so glad to hear him go on to give some specific ways to discern between a bad hangover and a heart attack so read on!

But please better safe than sorry. You can rush to the hospital THEN think about the following ideas as you ride in an ambulance.

You do NOT need to determine the source of your pain. Get medical help.

What’s difference between neck pain and heart attack pain?

If you can take your finger and put it on an exact spot that is in pain then it is probably not a heart attack. Typically the pain spreads to shoulders, chest or back. Secondly does it last longer than 60 seconds? If so get to the hospital.

What’s the difference between heartburn and heart attack? 

Does the pain feel like compression? Like someone sitting on your chest? Does it radiate down your arms? These are signs of heart attack.

If the pain is resolved with eating OR  if the pain goes up into your throat OR if the pain comes and goes then that is more likely to be heartburn. With indigestion, nausea or vomiting: does over-the-counter medication help you? If you feel bad then you take an antacid, Gas X or a prilosec and that makes you feel better it is probably not related to your heart.

And there is a time difference. With heart attack the pain and pressure can go on and on. Whereas with heartburn the pain can come and go. Again you do not need to determine this yourself. Go to the hospital if you don’t know.

Why is Shortness of Breath related to Heart Attacks?

If you can’t walk and talk then your heart is weak. You need to tell your doctor this even if you aren’t having a heart attack and work to strengthen your heart under Dr. supervision.

How to discern the Dizziness or Light-headedness related to heart attack

If you sit down and the dizziness goes away then that’s good. If you sit down and the dizziness continues then get to a doctor.

Overwhelming or Unusual Fatigue–Are you just tired?

Is there a change in your exhaustion in daily activity like carrying groceries or going up stairs? Did you do these same activities a few months ago or year ago and they did not bother you? ***No matter what your schedule is or if you are “burning the candles at both ends” you should not feel overwhelming fatigue. Dr. Oz had a 27 year old on his show that was a med student and very busy so she attributed her symptoms to that. She was 27 and had a major heart attack and had to have open heart surgery.


That last one about fatigue is personal to me. If you are a long-time fan of mine or friend then you might have heard my insomnia stories. I had major fatigue but I attributed it to my crazy lifestyle and insomnia. One time a clinician (as I went to free clinics and didn’t have health insurances for 15 years) at an exam could see how tired I was. I told her that I only slept a few hours and she said that when you wake up you should feel rested if you slept a few hours. Now, you might feel tired faster or need a nap soon but when you wake up you should not feel like your limbs are made out of cement and that you can hardly get out of bed NO MATTER YOUR LIFESTYLE OR AGE. In my case, I had severe anemia and low blood pressure problems. I took some prescription vitamins and ate better and was fine.

My point is never to presume that your age, or life circumstances, precludes you from disease.

Be scientific and access your symptoms–not “oh there is no heart disease in my family” or “Oh I am only 30″ or “I am just over worked.” This is not a time for history lessons or excuses, just look at the symptoms and go to the doctor. I love you all.


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