A Woman’s Heart Attack

The human heart
The human heart

Mamacita says: I had a heart attack on New Year’s Eve. Actually, it began the Sunday before, but I didn’t know what it was.

I have since learned that a woman’s heart attack is usually very different from a man’s heart attack. We see men having heart attacks in movies and on TV, and it’s always dramatic – stabbing pains, a clutching at the chest, and a heavy collapse. But women’s heart attacks are not like that, at least, not usually.

The thing is, what a woman’s heart attack is like is not easy to pin down. I can only tell you first-hand about my own, but while I was in the hospital, I learned a lot about it that I did not know before. My doctor told me to tell all my female friends, and it wouldn’t hurt my male friends to know this, too, that a woman’s heart attack is a sneaky bitch.

That Sunday night, I felt a nagging, subtle but uncomfortable sensation beneath my left breast. I thought to myself, well, it’s the holidays; I’m crazy busy; I’m stressed; I’m exhausted – all these explanations worked because they were all true. Besides, as I said, it wasn’t really a pain; it was more of a sensation.

However, it didn’t go away.

The next day, it was still there, not any worse, but not any better, and it had spread across my chest. Still not actually a pain – still more of a subtle sensation.

By Tuesday night, it was still there. Still no worse. Still no better. Still not a pain. Still just a sensation.

I thought it might be heartburn, but I don’t really get heartburn. I consulted Dr. Google (never a good idea, by the way) and decided I might have pneumonia. This didn’t overly concern me – they’ve got medicine for that these days.

Later that night – New Year’s Eve – my husband took me to the walk-in clinic inside the nearest hospital. The young woman at the desk asked me what the trouble was, and I told her I had a persistent sensation across my chest.

She raised her eyebrows and said,”We take chest pains very seriously here. I’m sending you to the ER.”

Chest pains. It was the first time that so much as crossed my mind. Chest pains. CHEST PAINS? Wasn’t that a heart attack? Was I having a heart attack? But only old people had heart attacks! I couldn’t be having a heart attack. I just couldn’t be. Where was the drama? Where were the stabbing pains?

At the ER, they took me in hand and looked and listened and poked a few needles in my arms in preparation for things to come and loaded me into an ambulance and took me to the BIG hospital thirty miles away.

There, the waiting doctor (so handsome) cut a little hole in my wrist and threaded a long super-thin wire up my right arm, across my chest, and into my heart. I was getting a stent. Being me, I was awake throughout the entire process.

(It was the pulling back out of that wire that was the weirdest thing.)

Then they wheeled me upstairs to a private room (yay!) and I begin four days of being treated for a massive heart attack.


I felt exhausted beyond measure, but otherwise fine. I’m almost always tired; it comes with being a woman.

I was covered with tubes and needles, and was being given medications enough to sink a much bigger ship than me.

The nurses, both male and female, all looked to be about fourteen years old, but everybody does, these days. All were super, super nice.

After those few days, I was sent home and told not to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk, and not to drive for three days. I was given a bottle of nitroglycerin and told to carry it with me at all times.

Today, almost two weeks later, I feel fine. Still bone-tired, but I honestly don’t even remember not being bone-tired. No pain. Lots of pills to take twice a day. But I am fine now.

The motto of this post is this: Ladies, do not take any kind of chest pain for granted as something minor that will go away on its own. Go to the ER immediately. Your heart attack will typically be unimpressive, undramatic, subtle, sneaky, and reminiscent of a strong salsa aftermath. Men, if your female loved one has these symptoms, take her to the ER. Her heart attack is not like your heart attack.

A woman’s heart attack is unimpressive. It isn’t loud. It isn’t dramatic. You will probably think, as I thought, that it was heartburn. Whatever else you do or don’t do, don’t consult Dr. Google; he’s a lying quack.

I hope none of you ever have to deal with this, but it’s good to know what to expect if it doesn’t happen.

Don’t take your health for granted. Don’t try to be stoic and wait it out. Take care of yourselves, my internet friends who mean so much to me.

Take care of yourselves.

Oh, and I hope you had a more festive New Year’s Eve than I did.


A Woman’s Heart Attack — 7 Comments

  1. Pingback: Myocardial Infarction, You Sneaky Bitch – A Passion For Teaching and Opinions

  2. Hola, Mamacita!
    Welcome to the club! I had my heart attack in 5/18 (a couple of stents) and triple bypass this last May. I’m 46. If you need any support, please ask!
    Your message to women is tremendously important and I’m going to make a post and link to you from my blog. Also check out Heart Sisters, a blog dedicated to supporting women who have gone through heart attacks and deal with heart disease.

  3. I had no idea! I’m so glad you made the decision to go in and get checked out, and SO glad you’re better now. And thank you for the reminder of heart attack symptoms- that’s the kind of thing I probably would have ignored. ????

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