Heart Attack Signs in Women
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
- As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
Source: American Heart Association
The three-inch scar on her chest is a telltale sign of Kimberly Goodloe’s long battle with heart disease.
She likes to call it “my journey,” but the truth is it is neither singular nor is it hardly, for African-American women at least, the road less traveled.
Nearly half of African-American women age 20 and older have cardiovascular disease, according to Michael Privette, executive director of the Metro Atlanta American Heart Association. In all, 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease or stroke, and if you're Hispanic or an African-American woman like Goodloe, your risk is even greater.
And so just as the color red will appear in infinite variety for much of this month so too will heart health, heart disease, and their risk factors, terms many of us would just as soon banish from our vocabularies than face them.
Not only is February American Heart Month it is also the time when the American Heart Association ramps up its annual Go Red for Women campaign. The dual attention observances, Privette said, underscore the fact that cardiovascular disease kills more women each year than all forms of cancer combined.
But women don’t have to die from this disease, he said. Research shows 80 percent of heart attacks and stroke can be prevented.
Before experiencing chest pain in 2009, Goodloe, 48, of Lawrenceville, had no idea her heart was in such bad shape.
The former high school cheerleader had given birth to two healthy children and was active in her community and church. She’d been told she had a heart murmur but there was no cause for alarm.
Then in the winter of 2009 as she walked from a classroom where she was substitute teaching, sudden hard pain struck in her chest.
The school nurse urged her to seek medical care. A echocardiogram showed Goodloe’s aortic valve was so severely damaged it couldn’t be fixed. It needed replacing.
“I was in shock,” Goodloe said recently.
Just days before Valentine’s Day doctors implanted a mechanical valve in Goodloe’s heart only to discover 48 hours later that she needed a pacemaker.
At a checkup in 2010, Goodloe received more bad news. This time, the right lead in her pacemaker had been damaged. She needed a new pacemaker.
“I’m getting close to another surgery now,” she said.
That’s because the batteries in the pacemaker must be replaced every five to seven years. This month will mark six years for Goodloe.
Although she still has to take it easy, her prognosis is excellent, said Dr. Sara Mobasseri, medical director at Piedmont Women’s Heart Program, a local sponsor of the Go Red for Women movement.
Cardiovascular deaths have declined 30 percent among women over the last decade, Mobasseri said, however women typically seek medical attention later than their male counterparts and they tend to be discharged from the hospital without the appropriate medications to protect their hearts.
Lack of awareness, she said.
“The two things I always ask my patients to know are their family history and what their numbers are for cholesterol, blood pressure, fasting blood sugar, and waist to hip ratio,” Mobasseri said.
Privette said the Go Red For Women campaign, now in its 12th year, goes beyond the standard health education and awareness efforts.
The goal is to reduce heart disease in women through supporting new research, physician training, improving the quality of treatment heart disease and stroke patients receive in hospitals, and improving the socioeconomic factors that impact health.
Although she was born with a heart murmur, Goodloe said there were few hints she might have heart disease until she was 42.
“God blessed me with a second chance at life ,” she said. “Now, I give back by walking in my purpose — sharing my story and encouraging other heart patients and their caregivers so they know they don’t have to suffer in silence or alone.
“All of us are facing something. It’s important to keep hoping, praying and never give up, to find inspiration in the small things.”
That includes, she said, focusing on her blessings and finding one reason to smile every day.