Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Subtle and Atypical Heart Attack Symptoms

Photo by Ally Aubry
Comic, actress, and talk show host Rosie O’Donnell and I are the same age, and she suffered a heart attack this month.   This news would be unsettling merely because we are both too young for the senior discount.

But this news has also been pestering me because her symptoms were so subtle and atypical that it took her a very long time--nearly 24 hours--to recognize them as heart related. 

Fortunately, she lived long enough to seek medical care and to receive a stent for the LAD artery (the widow maker) that was 99% blocked. She survived and wrote a blog post announcing the news this week.

[If you have any concerns about your heart health, please contact a licensed medical professional. This post is not designed to offer medical advice, only to raise awareness.]

In talking with my age mates about Rosie, it turns out that a handful of them have also experienced heart attacks around age 50 with symptoms that were subtle or atypical.  These symptoms of a heart attack can include one or more of the following:
  • Shortness of breath or panting
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Vertigo aka Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Anxiety or Unease
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Indigestion
  • Flatulence
  • Clammy Skin
  • Sweating
  • Jaw Pain
  • Neck Pain
  • Back Pain
  • Shoulder-blade Pain
  • Arm Pain or Soreness
  • Tightness in the Chest (also described as fullness, squeezing, pressure or discomfort)

Perhaps images from television and movies have conditioned people to expect a "Hollywood Heart Attack," which viewers of these media will recognize as dramatic chest pain, accompanied by pain in the left arm—pain that grips them like a vice and pushes them to the floor.

Women, especially, too often discount their symptoms because they are often more subtle and atypical than those men experience. Did you know that heart disease is the number one killer of women in America?  Too many people perceive this as a man's disease.

More often, both men and women I've talked with about their heart attacks describe their chest pain like a mild discomfort, a tightening in the chest and not a stabbing pain. This discomfort can also come and go.

Time is of the essence, because without rich, oxygenated blood, portions of the heart muscle will die off, causing permanent damage.  Seek immediate care by calling 911.  Get a physical annually and talk with your physician about your risks for heart disease. 

It’s wise for people to regularly review the signs of a heart attack, keeping in mind that these signs might be subtle, few, or atypical.   


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