A few weeks ago, I got one of those calls – the ones you dread. Mom was in the hospital, and she’d had a heart attack. I stood in the middle of a crowded city street, frozen, feeling my own heart pound.
Lucky, I thought. Lucky that my dad had rushed home to help when she called, and that they’d called the ambulance right away. Lucky that the doctors at the hospital realized she’d had a heart attack… because in some ways, it didn’t look like one.
Not everyone experiences chest pain during a heart attack. The main symptoms my mom described were nausea and a feeling like extreme heartburn. It wasn’t until after running tests at the hospital that the cardiologist confirmed that she’d actually had a heart attack.
In my First Aid and CPR training with the Red Cross, I’d learned that heart attack symptoms for women can be a lot different than for men. But it didn’t really sink in how difficult that might make it to recognize a problem, until this happened.
It happened to be St. Patrick’s Day the next day, so I brought Mom some green beads to cheer her up. She held them tightly during a long day of uncomfortable tests and procedures. She, Dad and I talked a lot that day about how surprising the symptoms were, and how lucky we felt.
If you haven’t taken a first aid course before, I ask you to think about it. Knowing how to recognize and treat any emergency – from an injury to an allergic reaction to a stroke – could save the life of someone you love.
Signs and symptoms of a heart attack
It’s important to recognize that the symptoms won’t be the same for every person. But here are some signs to look for:
- Squeezing chest pain
- Problems breathing
- Abdominal or back pain (more common in women)
- Cold, sweaty skin
- Skin that is bluish or paler than normal
- Nausea and vomiting
- Jaw pain
Many women, elderly people, and people with diabetes tend to experience «soft signs,» including:
- Mild, unfocused chest discomfort that:
- Comes and goes
- Doesn’t feel like pain
- Starts mild and gets continually stronger
- Gets better with rest
- Gets worse with activity
- Gastric discomfort
- Flu-like symptoms
Mom is on the mend now, and learning to let us help her, a little (it’s not easy – she’s a former nurse, used to taking care of other people, and stubbornness seems to run in the family!).
I could say that I learned how strong she is that day, but I already knew that.