health

The story about an unusual heart attack symptom that's being shared as a warning to women.

A heart attack victim who thought she had merely strained a back muscle has warned of the deceptive symptoms of cardiac arrest.

The woman, who has the Twitter handle GeeWheezie and is a nurse by trade, recounted her story on Twitter in an effort to make other women more aware of the heart attack symptoms they may miss.

“I want to warn women our heart attacks feel different,” she began.

“Last Sunday I had a heart attack. I had a 95 per cent block in my left anterior descending artery.

“I’m alive because I called 911.”

The US woman said she “never” felt any chest pain, and didn’t recognise any other symptoms from pamphlets at doctor’s offices.

“I almost died because I didn’t call it chest pain,” she said.

In fact, she’d had the pain “off and on” for weeks without realising what it was.

Deceptively, the pain wasn’t in her chest where her heart sits, but in her upper back, causing her to think it was just a “muscle strain”.

“The pain ran across my upper back, shoulder blades & equally down both arms.

“It felt like burning and aching. I actually thought it was muscle strain.

“It wasn’t until I broke into drenching sweat & started vomiting that I called 911.”

The woman explained that because she’d been helping her neighbour clean out her barn, she thought she’d pulled a muscle.

After more than a week of feeling the pain, she thought about visiting the doctor, but put it off “because it wasn’t real bad”.

Her story struck a chord with many social media users, who shared their own stories of missing the initial symptoms of heart attacks.

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Others thanked her for sharing her experience and remarked of their surprise that heart attacks were different in men and women.

It’s an all too important message to share given that the survival rates of heart attacks are actually worse in women than men.

And it’s not just patients themselves who are confused about symptoms.

Earlier this year, Dr Brad McKay told Mamamia that when women present with worrying symptoms, many doctors don’t immediately jump to a heart attack because they have been trained to look out for men’s symptoms.

Dr McKay also told Mamamia that a major symptom for women was shoulder or upper back pain.

“They might have pain between their scapula, their shoulder blades at the back and they can have tightness or discomfort,” he said.

However, women might also experience chest pain – without realising it.

“But the whole thing about women is that they have breasts – so they might feel pain and discomfort that pulls on different parts of the chest.

“Often women will think ‘Oh yeah, my breasts are just in the wrong position or they’re pulling, or my bra is just a little bit tight today…’ and it won’t actually click that it’s not their breasts causing the problem but it could actually be their heart lying underneath.”

But he added that in some women the pain could instead be felt in the neck or the jaw, clarifying that if it went towards the eye area it was unlikely to be a heart attack. He also specified that heart attack-related arm pain was usually the inner part of the arm and not the outer, tricep area.

Dr McKay said women might feel these symptoms when their heart is under strain, such as when they’re exercising.

He said that the main thing to look out for is “anything out of the ordinary”.

What are the risk factors of heart attack for women?

You can have none of these risk factors and still have a heart attack, but it’s worth knowing that the risk factors for women include:

  • High blood pressure
  • If you’re overweight or obese
  • High cholesterol
  • If you’re a smoker
  • Diabetes
  • Lack of exercise
  • Family history – particularly if someone in your family was under 55 years old when they first developed heart disease or had a stroke
  • A personal history of heart attack or stroke

Additional reporting by Jessie Stephens.

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