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Can a Woman In Her 40's Have a Heart Attack?

  
  
  

Note from Jenna: This post is brought to you by a special customer of ours, Laura Haywood-Cory. Laura wears a medical alert bracelet due to heart disease and wanted to share her story with all of you. Please give a warm welcome to Laura!

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"Heart disease is something that I used to never really think much about, but in March of 2009, at 40 years old, heart disease found me."

laura haywood coryI don't smoke, I don't have high blood pressure, my cholesterol isn't out of control, I exercise regularly, and I'd recently lost 23 pounds. I'd had an annual physical in December '08, and in early spring of '09, I'd started training for a triathlon with my doctor's blessing. So I don't know who was more surprised, me or the doctors, when I woke up on the morning of March 30th with textbook heart attack symptoms.

I had chest pain that was radiating down my left arm and up the side of my neck and into my jaw; I was overheated, and I felt like I was about to throw up. The pain was like nothing I'd ever felt before, and while a tiny, rational part of my brain was ticking off the symptoms and shaking my husband awake, the rest of me was crying and incoherent and very scared.

"I was the wrong age (40), wrong gender (female), no family history, no risk factors, and all the tests were negative..."

My husband took me to the emergency room, and they immediately did an EKG and a chest X-ray, drew blood, and gave me an aspirin and a nitroglycerin patch. The pain was subsiding even on the way to the hospital, and after we'd been there an hour, it was completely gone, and I felt silly for being there.

Everyone told us we'd done the right thing to come in, though, but in the next breath they'd tell us that they didn’t think I'd had a heart attack: I was the wrong age (40), wrong gender (female), no family history, no risk factors, and all the tests were negative—my EKG looked normal, they couldn't see any heart damage on the X-ray, and the initial blood work was fine. They talked about indigestion, or esophageal spasms. But they decided to admit me overnight for observation just to be safe, since I'd described such classic heart attack symptoms when I came in.

"I would have put your odds at having had a heart attack at much lower than 1 in 100, but the cardiac enzymes don't lie. You have indeed had a heart attack."

Later that evening, when the admitting doctor came to tell us the news, I knew before he said anything. He had a kind of pole-axed look about him. He said, "I would have put your odds at having had a heart attack at much lower than 1 in 100, but the cardiac enzymes don't lie. You have indeed had a heart attack." Cue crying in my husband's arms for several minutes and a round of "Why me? I’m too young to die!"

During the catheterization the next day, they first found just a small tear in my right coronary artery, then it expanded into a full-blown spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD). The doctors say that the SCAD is what caused my heart attack. They treated me with six stents, and after a week in the hospital, I was sent home.

"I didn't want to be one of those people wearing a clunky, ugly stainless steel bracelet that screams, "THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME..."

My cousin, a retired EMT, was the one who talked me into getting a medical ID; I didn't want to be one of those people wearing a clunky, ugly stainless steel bracelet that screams, "THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME," but he pointed out that given my age and relative good health, that if I were unresponsive, a paramedic's first thought would NOT be "heart disease." So I hopped online and looked for attractive medical IDs, and Lauren's Hope came up. First, I did a build-your-own, with purple and lavender beads. Then I got a purple waterproof alert one for swimming and other exercising. When tags became available with a purple option for the medical symbol, I got one, with a distressed purple leather medical alert bracelet. Are you seeing a trend here? :) Every time I wear them, I get compliments. At first, most people don't even realize that they're medical IDs, that's how attractive they are. And honestly, the fact that they ARE attractive makes it easier for me to feel good about wearing them day in, day out. It gives me and my husband both peace of mind to know that my information is available, should I be unable to communicate.

My mom has recently had to go on coumadin, and I've converted her into a happy Lauren's Hope customer, too. She has the gold bracelet and matching gold ID tag and loves it. I'm also a brochure ambassador and take them with me to the monthly women's heart disease support groups that I lead. Thank you for your lovely IDs that make wearing one a pleasure, not a chore.

Sincerely, Laura Haywood-Cory

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Do you have a story that you would like to share with fellow blog readers? Click here to learn how you can share your story.

Do you know someone with heart disease who needs to wear a medical alert bracelet? Please share this story with them!

 


Comments

Your story matches mine completely except for the fact that I am not an athlete and wasn't getting regular exercise. I was 52 when I had my heart attack and had no risk factors. You describe what goes through one's brain when it's happening, so beautifully -- "this could not be happening to me".
Posted @ Tuesday, March 01, 2011 6:40 AM by Dottie
In some respects you are very lucky that you had "textbook symptoms" and was able to recognize the need for immediate medical care. Most women have atypical signs and symptoms and often overlook them as signs of fatigue or a "flu". This is especially true of younger women who think the same as you: too young, normal physical, low cholesterol, no family history etc. This is why women (as well as some MDs) need to be educated on the uniqueness of women and heart disease. Heart disease is the number one killer of women ( more deaths than all cancers combined). I am glad to see more awareness focused on "women & heart disease". 
And thank you to Lauren's Hope for posting your article.
Posted @ Tuesday, March 01, 2011 6:56 AM by Lissa
Dottie, yes exactly--a very tiny part of me said, "I'm having a heart attack," but for the most part, I really didn't want to believe it. 
 
Lissa, believe me, I know. I do volunteer work for Womenheart, the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, and in the 18 months I've been with them, I've heard all too many horror stories of women whose symptoms were even more obvious and pronounced than mine, who were sent home and told it was a panic attack, or their gall bladder, or acid reflux.  
 
We have a double job here, of not only educating women, but educating the medical profession as well. 
 
Chest pain is still the most common heart attack symptom in women; the difference is that women also tend to get more of the other, less obvious symptoms: pain in the upper back, severe indigestion, overwhelming fatigue, jaw pain, etc. 
 
Last month, WomenHeart, the American Heart Association, and several other groups partnered together and launched a new media outreach program, Make the Call: Don't Miss a Beat to educate women about heart attack symptoms and to encourage them to call 9-1-1. 
 
It's so easy for us women to put others' needs ahead of our own, but if you feel like you're having heart attack symptoms, that's not the time to be selfless. It doesn't matter if the house is in disarray, the EMTs have seen it all before. Just call, and get help. 
Posted @ Tuesday, March 01, 2011 7:19 AM by Laura Haywood-Cory
Dottie, Laura's story was described so well that you can almost hear her thinking those thoughts.  
 
It's clear that heart disease is all to prevalent in women and stories like Laura's need to be shared. I would love to hear more about your story Dottie. If you'd like to share your story, feel free to email me. jenna@laurenshope.com
Posted @ Tuesday, March 01, 2011 9:55 AM by Jenna White
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