I’m only 32 years old.
I’m only 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 in bed, I immediately started feeling pain and a tightening sensation in my chest, 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 stood 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. We decided to go to urgent care where they determined that 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. He didn’t say it but it was pretty obvious that something serious was happening.
In the ER, several blood tests revealed elevated enzymes that are only present when there has been damage to the heart muscle. 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 into 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, luckily, the flap was pushed back down into place pretty quickly and began repairing itself. Good job to my body on that one!
My official diagnosis is Coronary Artery Dissection. Apparently, while this type of heart issue is rare, it is a 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 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 how people always say, “oh, you just know” when you ask them to describe something? Well, I would get so angry because I would think, ‘okay, 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 in life, and my biggest anxiety trigger. But I can now say that I understand what they mean when they say “you just know” because you really do. It’s a feeling, a gut reaction, an intuition. 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?
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Wow, Nikki. SO glad you are going to be ok. I know you must have been in shock with the diagnosis. Thank you for sharing the symptoms women experience You will certainly be in my thoughts and prayers.
Thank you, Jennie. I was definitely in shock; I totally could not believe what had happened to me. I’m still having some anxiety and nervousness around it but I’m working on that, too. I’m just glad that I’m going to be all right! 🙂