Over the years, the face of heart attacks—medically known as myocardial infarctions—has become the middle-aged male, overweight, stressed out and generally unhealthy. His symptoms include severe pain in the chest and tingling in the arms. But heart attack symptoms and their victims are far more varied than that. Chicago resident Theresa Hunt-Myers, 69, learned this firsthand.
One morning in March 2009, Hunt-Myers awoke with a crick in her neck. Assuming she had slept uncomfortably, she tried to ignore it and began dressing for work. Hunt-Myers’ reaction isn’t rare. Many women ignore the initial heart attack symptoms, mistakenly blaming stress or shoulder pain.
Before long, she grew hot. “I felt like I was on fire,” she said. “Water was streaming off of me like I was in the shower.” Then she was on her knees, not in pain but “it was like part of me had shut down.”
At this point, Hunt-Myers knew something more serious was happening. She crawled to the phone and dialed 911. Within 20 minutes, paramedics were rolling her into the Weiss Memorial Hospital emergency room. Dr. Amjad Sheikh performed emergency surgery, inserting a stent into Hunt-Myers’ artery.
“The people who cared for me were amazing,” said Hunt-Myers, breaking into tears as she described Dr. Sheikh warming a blanket in the microwave and wrapping it around her feet to keep them warm. “I never ever felt anything but cared for and concerned about,” she said.
Hunt-Myers returned to her work as an administrative assistant at an investment company a few weeks later. She continues to participate in cardiac rehabilitation at Weiss, leaving work twice weekly to exercise on the treadmills and bikes at the hospital.
The experience has taught her to listen to her body—especially because there is no exact outline of heart attack symptoms.
“Sometimes I might overreact to the smallest symptom,” Hunt-Myers said, but she alone knows her body and can prevent another heart attack.
Signs of a Heart Attack
Do you know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack?
- Chest discomfort or pain which lasts several minutes or comes back.
- Pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest.
- Discomfort/pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs include nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness/fainting or breaking out in a cold sweat.
Women may be more likely to experience shortness of breath, cold sweat, nausea or neck/jaw pain.