I’m 32 years old and super healthy.
And yet I had a heart attack over memorial day weekend. It was a shock to everyone… me, my family, my friends, and my doctors.
I think it was this video – and a few online articles – that helped me recognize just what was going on. I really encourage you to watch the video, read the articles, and familiarize yourself with the signs because it just might save your life. Here’s my story:
I woke up on Saturday morning feeling completely normal. I nursed Sebastian and when I laid back down, I immediately started feeling chest pain and tightening, jaw pain that felt like I had been clenching my mouth closed for hours, and a weird discomfort in my left arm. I didn’t know exactly what was happening at first but I knew something wasn’t right. I got up and started pacing around my bedroom, telling Nick that I didn’t feel good and I was afraid it was something serious this time. I said “this time” because I have a history of anxiety and having panic attacks and, while panic attacks are very disturbing and certainly feel ominous, they aren’t usually life threatening. This was different, though. It felt wrong. So, we decided to go to urgent care where I had really high blood pressure (which is normally on the low side for me) and abnormal EKG results, so the doctor sent me to the emergency room.
In the ER, several blood tests revealed elevated enzymes that are only released by the heart when it has been damaged. This really alarmed the doctors because they had never seen these results in someone so young and healthy. They moved me to the ICU, and after a procedure where they inserted a catheter to look at the arteries around my heart and finding no clogs or other blockages, the doctors finally concluded that I must have had a small tear in the coronary artery, called a dissection. Due to lack of risk factors, they also determined it was likely pregnancy related, as pregnancy itself causes a lot of strain on the heart. Essentially, they think the tear caused the lining of my artery to flap up and block blood flow to my heart, resulting in the heart attack, but then the flow was eventually able to push the flap back down into place and begin repairing itself. Good job on that one, body!
My official diagnoses are NStemi (Non-ST-elevation myocardial infarction) and Coronary Artery Dissection. Apparently this type of heart issue is a most common type of heart attack/issue in pregnant and postpartum women. They’ve put me on several medications for the next year that will thin my blood, keep my blood pressure stable, and help protect my heart as it continues to heal. I will also have many different follow up appointments in the coming weeks and months.
I think I’m fortunate that I’m going to be okay, but I shudder to think what would have happened if I hadn’t trusted my intuition and taken the warning signs seriously. You know people always say, “oh, you just know?” I would get so angry because I would think, yeah, but how do you know you’ll know? I was always afraid I would missing something significant and my health would rapidly decline, or even worse, I would die. That’s been my biggest fear. But I can now say that I understand what they mean when they say “you just know” because you really do. And if something happens that doesn’t feel quite right or “normal” but you’re still in doubt, then take that to mean that you just figured out what “you just know” means!
Now to the education piece: the symptoms of a heart attack are different for men and women. According to the American Heart Association, symptoms in women include:
–Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
–Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
–Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
–Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
–As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort.
But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
I experienced at least three of these symptoms simultaneously. If you have any of these signs, call 9-1-1 and/or get to a hospital right away.
My message to you is if you think something serious is going on, get it checked out,even if it does end up being something non life-threatening. Better safe that sorry, right?