Nurse's Viral Tweet Reveals How Heart Attack Symptoms Are Different for Women

"I almost died because I didn’t call it chest pain."

Every year, about 735,000 Americans suffer a heart attack, and, for many, the result is dire. According to the CDC, one in four people die of heart disease in the United States, making it the leading cause of death for both men and women. And yet, a 2005 survey found that only 27% of respondents were aware of all major symptoms of a heart attack, which is terrible because detecting early warning signs is crucial for survival.

Most people consider chest pain to be the only sign that a heart attack is on the horizon, but any upper body pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach can be a major symptom, as well.

Twitter user @geewheezie,who is a nurse, learned this the hard way and decided to share her story as warning to other women in a thread that now has over 26,000 retweets.

"I want to warn women our heart attacks feel different. Last Sunday, I had a heart attack. I had a 95% block in my left anterior descending artery. I'm alive because I called 911. I never had chest pain. It wasn't what you read in pamphlets. I had it off and on for weeks. The pain ran across my upper back, shoulder blades and equally down both arms. It felt like burning and aching. I actually thought it was muscle strain. It wasn't until I broke into drenching sweat and started vomiting that I called 911. I'm a nurse. I'm an older woman. I had been spending the week helping my neighbor clean out her barn, I thought I strained some muscles. I took Motrin and put a warm pack on my shoulders, I almost died because I didn't call it chest pain. The day before my heart attack I drove six hours to help my mother who lives in another state. I thought I should go to a [doctor] but I had to help my mom who is 90 and I'd just tough it out because it wasn't real bad. I was lucky, I had no idea what hospital to go to, the female medics who picked me up took me to a hospital that does cardiac caths, i had 4 stents placed an hour after I got to the ER. That was Sunday. I was discharged Thursday and at my daughters house and back to tweeting."

While nausea, vomiting, and soreness in your arms are listed as major warning signs of heart attacks in general, @geewheezie is right to want to "warn women our heart attacks feel different."

According to the ACLS, "heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, killing one out of every four women each year. Why is heart disease so deadly in women? One of the reasons is that 'typical' heart attack symptoms—crushing chest pain that radiates to the left arm—do not describe what many women feel during their heart attacks. Consequently, women ignore or downplay their heart attack symptoms until it is too late."

While women may experience chest pain, it seems like women are more likely than men to experience a deep, dull pain in their armpits as a warning sign, and to pass it off as muscle strain.

Other nurses commented on the thread to warn women that a "deep, dull ache in left and possibly right armpit, that may go down to your waist," which lingers for one to two weeks, can be a hidden symptom that a heart attack is on its way.

Cardiovascular disease is commonly misinterpreted as an affliction that primarily affects men, which is why a lot of the information we have on it doesn't apply as much to women. As such, it's vital to know that chest pain is not the only warning sign to look out for.

And for more on how to prevent a heart attack, read about the one very simple thing post-menopausal women can do to reduce the risk of heart failure by 25 percent.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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