Tuesday, January 13, 2009

You're Breaking My Heart

Just got back from giving a talk for an EMS Crosstraining night with our firemen. My topic was medical emergency.

I asked them, "What is the #1 killer of firemen?"

Heart Attack.

Average age of these heart attack victims?


#1 Killer of Women?

You wanted to say men, didn't you?

Heart Attack.

Average age of these heart attack victims?


Good little screenwriter that I am, I managed to work in mention of film.

Odds are it won't be like in the movies where someone clutches his chest or left arm and hits the deck, dead. Heart attacks can begin as mild discomfort that may be ignored until it's too late.

This is especially true of older women -- that generation who took care of everyone and now doesn't want to be any trouble.

Grandma's having trouble catching her breath? She doesn't want to be any trouble. She'll just sit over there in the corner and not bother anyone while she progresses to a major cardiac event while no one is looking.

Do not ignore these symptoms.

Chest Pain – A sensation at the center of chest that feels like pressure, squeezing or fullness in degrees of mild, which may be mistaken for gas, or crushing, that inhibits breathing.

Pain in the upper body. Can include pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach. Back – between the shoulder blades.

Shortness of breath. May be a result of the crushing chest pressure, but may occur before the other symptoms and without pain. Respiratory distress should not be ignored. If you’re having trouble breathing, get help.

Other heart attack symptoms that may be mistaken for mild illness. Nausea, light-headedness, cold sweat, anxiety and fatigue.

Women Are Different From Men.


A woman having a heart attack may present completely different symptoms than a man. They will probably occur without chest pain. These symptoms may be ignored until she is dead.

1 Fatigue.
2 Nausea.
3 Heartburn or indigestion.
4 Shortness of breath.
5 Pain in the jaw, belly, back, shoulder or ring finger.

Remember: the most important medical contribution you may make is to advocate for a woman patient if her “heart attack” symptoms are being ignored.


  1. Two things:
    Fatigue, nausea, heartburn, are so common, we more likely associate them with stomach flu. Not until shortness of breath/pain are we likely to think, "Wow. Maybe there is something wrong with me."

    Second thing: Can you imagine going to ER and having them laugh at you because you say you're experiencing fatigue, nausea or heartburn? They give you Tums and tell you to go home and get a good night's sleep.

    How do you convince them it's more than just a touch of flu? How do you know yourself that it's serious?

  2. I've seen a patient who, IMO was recovering from an angina attack, be convinced by paramedics that it was heartburn. So, yeah, it happens. Patients, or families of patients, must be proactive re: health care even if this annoys health care workers.

    If you make it to the ER and think you're having a heart attack and your fears are being dismissed by medical personnel, there is a blood test that will confirm heart attack. Insist on having it.


Glad to hear from you!