A nurse took to Twitter this week after having a heart attack with drastically different symptoms than one might expect.
Her experience revealed that women’s heart attacks don’t always match the classic description.
Twitter user @geewheezie said that she had been helping a neighbor clean out their barn when she started to feel what she described as “muscle strain.” She assumed that the hard work had merely led to some sore muscles and took a Motrin and applied a heat pack to alleviate her pain.
We normally associate heart attack symptoms with chest pain, but @geewheezie says she didn’t experience that at all.
“I never had chest pain. It wasn’t what you read in pamphlets. I had it off & on for weeks.”
The Tweet has gone viral, with 37,000 retweets, 74,000 likes, and over 1,500 responses.
Describing the feeling as “burning and aching,” @geewheezie didn’t think of her symptoms as chest pain and went about her day.
It wasn’t until her symptoms got much more severe that she went to the hospital:
Luckily, the female medics who came to her aid took her to a hospital that specialized in cardiac episodes. After an hour in the ER, she had 4 stents placed in her arteries. Stents are tube-shaped devices inserted into clogged arteries and then inflated to hold the artery open and allow blood to flow freely.
Despite her dramatic episode, she was home in less than 5 days.
Other Twitter users chimed in with similar stories:
While most heart attacks do cause chest pain, it’s important for women especially to note that their symptoms can look different.
According to the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, people should also look for symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, unusual tiredness, and pain in the back, shoulders, and jaw. Sweating, dizziness, and lightheadedness are also commonly reported.
While rushing to the ER with these symptoms may feel like an overreation, the American Heart Association warns that people often assume these symptoms are associated with less life-threatening conditions such as the flu or heartburn.
This is especially the case in women. Doctors are now trying to bring to light the alternative symptoms of a heart attack and encourage more women to get help when they’re feeling unwell so they can get the care that they need before it’s too late.
Raising awareness of the more subtle symptoms also gives women the opportunity to bring them up with their doctors at annual check-ups.
When women feel fatigue, they are more likely to chalk it up to overexertion. Nonetheless, it’s important for women to take their pain and discomfort seriously and make time to see a doctor if something seems wrong.
Dr. Nicole Weinberg, MD, a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, told INSIDER:
“If you’re busy and you’re taking care of your family, or if your busy at work, or you’ve got like 17 things to do, you know, swinging by the doctor’s office is probably not your one, two, and three thing to do and so you kind of monitor and wait and see if things escalate and get worse.”
For women who do seek help, a separate study shows that it might be more beneficial for them to see a female physician.
Just this year, research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences analyzed data from over half a million heart attack patients in the state of Florida and discovered that women were more likely to die from a heart attack if they were treated by a male doctor in the ER. (Interestingly, male doctors had a higher patient success rate if they worked with more female physicians.)
Granted, the difference was a mere 1.52% in liklihood, but the study co-author pointed out to Gizmodo that this accounted for 1,500-3000 patient lives that might have been saved. That’s pretty significant when you think about how many women might still be alive if they had received care from a different physician.
We’ve long known that women are less likely to survive heart attacks than men and researchers have hypothesized that the reasons range from delaying treatment to their symptoms being tougher to diagnose.
While there’s no straightforward solution yet, women are encouraged to familiarize themselves with all the potential symptoms of heart attacks, seek help at the onset of symptoms, and advocate for themselves when it comes to getting doctors to take their pain seriously.
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