Patient Sally Irvin

“I had two heart attacks, but none of the classic symptoms.”
“I had two heart attacks, but none of the classic symptoms.”

Sally Irvin knows that women’s heart attack symptoms are NOT the same as men’s. “It’s not like you see in the movies when a guy grabs his chest and keels over,” she said.

While at a conference several years ago, Sally woke up with severe head and neck pain that radiated down her right (not her left) arm. Her discomfort continued, along with nausea, all day.

That evening Sally went to the hospital and learned she was having a heart attack. One artery was 100 percent blocked. A stent opened her artery. Sally was only 50 years old, a very active person and a runner.

After recovering, Sally switched from running to walking, Tae Kwon Do, and yoga.

Back pain or heart attack?

Four years later, Sally experienced back pain she thought had been caused by lifting weights. This was her second heart attack.

Sally has since recovered and returned to cross training and running.

Because of her experiences, Sally wants to warn other women about her symptoms. Many people still don’t realize that heart disease is the number one killer of women and men.

“I’ve got to stay healthy so that I can do my full-time job and go out and talk with people. I want to do whatever I can.”

Women’s heart attack symptoms are often different from men’s

Heart disease kills more women than all types of cancer.

Women have the same risk for heart disease as men, but women’s heart attacks often do not have the classic symptoms of crushing chest pain that radiates to the neck and jaw, profound sweating, and shortness of breath.

Women’s heart attack symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Heartburn
  • Atypical chest pain
  • Back or jaw pain
  • Sweating

“Unusual symptoms ‘between the lip and the hip’ should be evaluated,” said Susan Butler, RN, MSN, Women’s Heart Health Coordinator at Wake Forest Baptist Health.

Susan provides community education, heart health screenings, and other services targeting women. For more information, contact Susan at 336-713-4427

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Women’s Heart Health

Heart disease is the number one cause of death for men and women; yet, women traditionally believe their risk of death from breast cancer is more likely.

Last Updated: 04-09-2014
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