• Heart attack symptoms

Deadly Disease With Unexpected Symptoms

Bloating, constipation and indigestion certainly don’t sound like the symptoms of someone on the verge of a heart attack. In fact, most people would probably assume they ate something that didn’t agree with them.

That or the flu is precisely what 64-year-old Francine Gauthier of Lynwood thought when she started feeling out of sorts last September. For three days, the active retiree rode out the annoying symptoms. Finally, she decided to take a laxative for relief.

“The heartburn kept me up all night,” Gauthier explains. “I didn’t sleep at all. At 4 a.m., the laxative kicked in.”

During a visit to the bathroom, she passed out on the floor. Fortunately, her husband heard the commotion and rushed in.

“Everything came down on me at once,” she said. “I started having chest pain and shortness of breath.”

Her husband wanted to call an ambulance, but Gauthier refused — even with her history of high cholesterol and blood pressure.

“I told him I was okay and didn’t want an ambulance.”

Instead, he drove her to Ingalls Urgent Aid in Calumet City. By the time she arrived, Gauthier was so weak, she couldn’t walk. Ingalls staff took one look at her and said, “You’re having a heart attack.”

“They rushed me to the back and gave me four baby aspirins,” she remembers. “They took my blood pressure, did an EKG (electrocardiogram) and started prepping me for an ambulance.”

Ten minutes after she arrived at Ingalls Urgent Aid, Gauthier was whisked by ambulance directly to the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at Ingalls Memorial Hospital.

There, interventional cardiologist Angel Castaner, M.D., performed an emergency angioplasty to open up blocked coronary arteries and implanted three stents to keep them open.

“At the time, I was really hoping it wasn’t a heart attack,” she explains. “I didn’t think I was sick. In fact, I’ve never really been sick.”

Following 12 weeks of cardiac rehabilitation at Ingalls, Gauthier’s good as new and committed to a heart-healthy lifestyle.

“I feel great,” she said.

Heart Attack Symptoms: Men vs. Women

Although Gauthier’s story has a happy ending, heart disease has claimed the lives of more women than men in the United States for the last 30 years.

One reason is awareness. Sadly, 80% of women don’t realize heart disease is their leading health risk.

“Many still think of it primarily as a man’s disease, although heightened awareness over the last 10 to 20 years has helped,” explains Ripple Doshi, M.D., cardiologist on staff at Ingalls.

The truth is, nearly 90% of all women have at least one or more risk factors for developing heart disease. In fact, it’s so pervasive among the fairer sex, that heart disease kills one out of every three American women every year.

Another reason that women tend to overlook heart disease is symptoms.

We’ve all seen movies and TV shows where a man gasps, clutches his chest and falls to the ground of a heart attack. Typical symptoms for men are pain, crushing pressure and/or tightness in the chest that radiates to the neck or arm. This is often accompanied by nausea or shortness of breath, with the symptoms worsening with physical activity and improving with rest.

While symptoms for women may be similar, Dr. Doshi explains that certain patients, including women, diabetics and the elderly, are more likely to exhibit atypical or “brush-off” symptoms.

“Instead of shortness of breath and pains shooting down the left side of the body, these individuals may experience indigestion, vomiting and nausea, severe fatigue, shortness of breath and flu-like symptoms,” Dr. Doshi said.

Other symptoms in women include abdominal, back or jaw pain, and breaking into a sweat for unexplained reasons.

That’s why nearly half of all women experiencing an actual heart attack (like Gauthier) don’t call 911.

“As wives, mothers and caregivers, women are more concerned about the health of their loved ones,” Dr. Doshi said. “They tend to brush off less dramatic symptoms and don’t get the help they need. That’s why women don’t often have favorable outcomes following a heart attack. They wait too long. The most important thing is to get immediate medical care if you experience any symptoms that are unusual. Many women are too embarrassed to go to the ER, but it’s better to seek treatment and find out it’s a false alarm than wait it out at home and have a major heart attack.”

Factors that put anyone at an increased risk for heart attack include diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol, hypertension or high blood pressure, family history and advancing age.

“The key to surviving a heart attack is getting medical treatment as soon as possible,” Dr. Doshi added. “Early presentation leads to greater survival, less damage to the heart muscle and a better chance that the blocked artery can be reopened and blood flow restored.”

For more information or a referral to a cardiologist, call Ingalls Care Connection at 708.915.CARE (2273).


Determine Your Risk

To determine your personal risk of heart disease, Ingalls offers HeartAware, a free online risk assessment. Simply go to www.Ingalls.org/HeartAware. HeartAware takes less than seven minutes and can be completed right in the comfort of your home or office. A printable report is available upon completion and includes information about your risk factors as well as easy to read educational material about how to stay heart healthy.

Valuable Free Testing

If your HeartAware assessment reveals three or more risk factors for heart disease, you are eligible to receive a free health screening that includes a full lipid profile, blood glucose level and measurements of blood pressure, body mass index and waist circumference. Afterwards, an Ingalls nurse navigator will follow up to discuss your results and make a plan to minimize your future risks for heart disease.

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