• Female heart attack patient

Listen to Your Body: Women’s Heart Attack Symptoms Can Be Subtler than Men’s

For Kathie Bodza, 53, the first sign of an impending heart attack wasn’t crushing chest pain. In fact, it wasn’t heart-related at all.

It was a headache that wouldn’t go away. Kathie’s sudden and unexpected health crisis began one day in mid-March as she sat down to have lunch at work. “All of a sudden, I felt like my head was a pressure cooker,” she remembers. “I thought maybe it was the start of a sinus infection. I took an acetaminophen, and it subsided.”

But it didn’t go away entirely. After work, Kathie went home and lay on the couch to see if rest would bring relief. It didn’t. Instead, when she finally settled in, she noticed pain behind her left shoulder blade.

“I just couldn’t get comfortable,” she explains. “I sat in a chair and fell asleep for about 45 minutes.” Later that evening, when her symptoms persisted, she had an inkling something more serious was going on. Instead of calling 9-1-1, she decided to drive herself from her home in South Holland to the Ingalls Emergency Department to be checked out.

“I honestly didn’t think it could be a heart attack,” she said. “There was no chest pain, no feeling of indigestion, just the headache and pain behind my shoulder blade.”

When doctors in the ED evaluated Kathie, they delivered the shocking news that what she actually experienced was a heart attack. “When the doctor told me, I just started bawling,” she said.

The next morning, interventional cardiologist Ripple Doshi, M.D., discovered two severely blocked coronary arteries during an angiogram. He performed an angioplasty to reopen the arteries and implanted stents to keep them open.

Though initially she was in denial, Kathie admits she had several important risk factors for heart disease: She’s a smoker; she’s a diet-controlled diabetic, and both her parents have had coronary artery bypass surgery. She was also under a lot of stress leading up to the heart attack. Today, Kathie’s eating healthier, exercising several times a week and has cut her smoking habit in half with plans to quit altogether. She recently completed cardiac rehabilitation at Ingalls and has worked with a dietitian to choose hearthealthy foods.

“My advice is listen to your body,” she adds. “When something is out of the norm, get it checked out. Looking back, I’ve had feelings of indigestion before, but I never thought is was leading up to a heart attack.”

Thankfully, Kathie’s story has a happy ending, but not everyone’s does. In fact, heart disease has claimed the lives of more women than men in the United States for the last 30 years.

One reason is that many women still view heart disease as a man’s problem. Another is presentation of symptoms. Unlike the chest-clutching scenarios we’ve all seen in movies or on TV, women’s symptoms can be subtler like Kathie’s, and may include indigestion, severe fatigue, shortness of breath and flu-like symptoms.

“The key to surviving a heart attack is getting immediate medical treatment,” Dr. Doshi explains. “Early intervention can mean less damage to the heart muscle, a better chance that a blocked artery can be reopened and a greater likelihood for survival.”

Ingalls HeartAware

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, an HB A1c test for diabetes risk 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.

Success Stories
  • Title

    Inspirational stories of courage and hope

Progress Magazine