Heart Attack Symptoms More Subtle In Women
Heart disease is No. 1
killer of women
Mary Lacina of Davenport had some
tightness in her throat that wouldn’t go
away. She thought it might be anxiety.
She felt worse by the next morning.
After a sip or two of her morning coffee
and with the tightness intensifying, she
swallowed some aspirin and had her
husband drive her to the hospital. She
was clutching her chest by the time she
arrived at the Genesis Emergency
Department registration desk.
Darla Lowe’s upper arms ached. She
took a Tylenol and sat down to watch a
When her shoulders and neck also
began to hurt, Lowe of Park View
figured she had pulled a muscle while
lifting a bag of quarters at her job. It
wasn’t until four hours after her first
symptom that she called her daughter
to take her to the hospital.
Both women began with seemingly
harmless symptoms that ended in a
Both were rushed to the Cardiac
Catheterization Lab, where cardiologists
opened up their blocked arteries and
inserted metal stents to restore blood
flow to their hearts.
United by heart disease, the two
became friends and now share a
commitment to exercise in Phase 4
Cardiac Rehabilitation at the Genesis
“My heart attack was a big shock,”
Lacina says. “The day before, I felt
tightness in my throat at work, and my
co-workers said, ‘You should go to the
hospital.’ Instead, I went to my car over
lunch, took a nap and felt a little better.
The next morning, however, I woke up
with the same thing. It just got worse.”
baffled by the
pain in her
of a heart
mind -- until
began to hurt
hours later. “I
could still talk and breathe just fine. I
thought I had pulled some muscles.”
Listen to your heart
Today, in celebration of the American
Heart Association’s National Wear Red
Day, their experiences remind women
that cardiovascular disease is not just a
• More women die of heart disease
than the next three causes of death
combined, including all forms of
• Currently, some 8 million women in
the U.S. live with heart disease, yet
only 1 in 6 American women believes
heart disease is her biggest threat.
• In women, heart disease is too often
a silent killer. Less than a third of
women in a recent survey reported
any early warning signs like chest
pain or discomfort before a heart
attack, compared with most men.
• Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of
women age 20 and over.
Mary Lacina had sleep apnea and high
cholesterol, both risk factors for heart
disease. Before her heart attack at age
54, she experienced arm and leg pain
and was taken off her cholesterol
medication to determine if that was the
After her heart attack, she was
diagnosed with diabetes in the hospital.
She resumed her cholesterol
medication. After another sleep apnea
test, the settings on her Bi-PAP machine
were changed to help her overworked
Darla Lowe also had risk factors before
her heart attack at age 64. She had
been on cholesterol-lowering and
blood pressure medications for
20 years. She was a lifelong smoker and
had diabetes. Women with diabetes
have a 3-to-7 times greater risk of heart
disease and heart attack. Still, she
didn’t connect her upper arm pain with
a heart attack.
“Awareness is improving, but many
people still don’t think heart disease is a
woman’s problem,” says Karen Doy,
Supervisor of Cardiac Rehabilitation at
the Genesis Heart Institute.
frequently continue activities when they
feel ill. They don’t see their symptoms
as serious or realize they represent a
Women tend to
attacks later in
life than men,
and as a result,
often have other
diseases that can
heart attacks in
unreported because their symptoms are
more subtle than men’s.
“Women often don’t have the ‘classic’
chest pain that grips the chest and
spreads to the shoulders, neck or arms,”
Doy says. “Instead, they have a greater
tendency to have atypical chest pain or
to complain of abdominal pain, difficulty
breathing, indigestion, nausea and
“Sometimes, their only symptom is
extreme fatigue,” adds Brenda Youngs,
R.N., a charge nurse for Genesis Cardiac
Rehabilitation. “Many women think
fatigue is just a normal part of living. We
encourage people to consider that any
pain from the nose to the belly button
might be heart-related -- until it’s ruled
Women should learn the signs of heart
attack and change the risk factors they
can change, Youngs adds. Be more
active. Lose extra weight. Stop smoking.
Manage diabetes. Control your
cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Limit alcohol consumption. Be your own
best health advocate.
Today, Mary Lacina and Darla Lowe lead
a healthier lifestyle with each other’s
Three times a week, they exercise
together at the Genesis Heart Institute
gym. They met after their heart attacks
and grew to appreciate having
medically supervised exercise in Phase 2
Cardiac Rehab and the support of
others who also had heart disease. They
stayed on for Phase 3 and 4.
“When I started Cardiac Rehab, I was
petrified to do anything physical,” says
Lowe, who has quit smoking since her
heart attack. “But staff at Genesis were
really, really great. Phase 2 taught me to
move again. Now, I actually look
forward to exercising, perspiring and
feeling muscles again I had forgotten I
Both agree exercising together has
been key to their success.
“The truth is, I wouldn’t be exercising if I
didn’t attend this class,” says Lacina,
who received two stents after her heart
attack. “Having a heart attack is a lifechanger.
You have to become more
active. You can be at Cardiac Rehab for
that hour, and the time is yours.”
Since she joined Cardiac Rehab, the
results of her echocardiogram have
greatly improved over seven months.
“Trust your instincts,” she concludes. “If
something doesn’t feel right, it probably