Before we start you should know one important thing: when it comes to a heart attack, women do not show the same signs that men do.
This is a story about Linda Johns.
She is a 55-year-old female author who in the middle of a heart attack left a book signing party and drove home by herself. While she was experiencing a heart attack, she was with a group of friends presenting her new mystery book series (in Queen Anne Book Company in Seattle). She suddenly felt some flu-like symptoms and she told her friend and fellow author Kirby Larson that she didn’t feel well. Larson tried to intervene and offered to either take Johns home or take her to the urgent care. In her NPR piece John writes: “Something was off. She told me she was worried, and that I looked ‘ashen.'”
She would soon remember that looking ashen was one of the symptoms of an oncoming heart attack.
After her attack she feels an urge to tell her story because just a few people know that the symptoms of a heart attack are in fact quite different for a man and a woman.
Can you tell which one of these women is Linda Johns?
Courtesy of Linda Johns.
Believe it or not, she is the one sitting center and front, with the glasses. In this photo, she is already in the early stages of her heart attack.
She decided to drive home alone, and on her way home she started feeling a stabbing pain in her back. She knew that something is seriously wrong. Then the pain went down her left arm to her little finger.
When she was finally home, she asked her husband to take her to the ER. When she told her symptoms in the ER she was taken in immediately. Now she points out the symptoms for women in cardiac arrest:
- Back pain;
- Pain that travels from left arm to the left hand;
- Ashen complexion;
- Chest pain (which was the last symptom);
Johns was a healthy woman. She says that the heart attack, or a myocardial infarction (MI) as the doctors call it, happened just a couple of months after a physical where she had normal ECG and blood work. She was also a non-smoker, she was on a healthy diet and she exercised. However, she says that the spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD, occurs in healthy women too.
For the experience she had she says: “My heart attack was not the Hollywood kind where someone, almost always a man, grabs his chest and doubles over in pain. Every one of my symptoms was one that would stand on its own as a possible heart attack; all of my symptoms are ones that could be, and often are, dismissed by health care professionals, let alone by the people having them.”
According to statistics, women age 45 and younger are are more likely to die within a year of their first heart attack, than men are.
Johns was surprised how many of the women in her life do not know the difference between men’s and women’s heart attack symptoms. That is why she wants to spread the word and help someone in need.