Heart Attack Symptoms, Subtle Alarms

Coming out of a meeting last week, I picked up a voice message from my mother asking me to “please” call her at home.  An alarm immediately went off.  My mother never asks me to “please” call her, she just says, “give me a call.”

Over the phone her voice was slurred and she sounded awful.  She’d been running errands when a wave of nausea passed through her and she got a piercing headache over her right eye. Her fingers got numb, she was chilled to the bone, and her mouth got dry to the point where she couldn’t generate any saliva.

My mother is 91-years-old and while at this point it’s a numbers game for her, I’m not ready to give her up just yet.  The weekend before I’d read an post about heart attacks in women and how the symptoms differ from those in men. We tend to think of the classic and dramatic symptoms but in women they are so subtle that they are often ignored.

Most women I know are pretty invincible, including my mom, but when I learned the biggest killer of women in America isn’t breast cancer (despite all those pink ribbons) but heart attacks, it alarmed me. And when my mom described the “wave of nausea,” the alarm got even louder since that is a main symptom.  Sure, it might be nothing but I didn’t want to take the chance.

If you’re not familiar with heart attack symptoms in women, it’s probably a good idea to know them.  The Woman’s Heart Attack is a good place to start.  Sharing this information with friends and family could save a life.

After I spoke with my mom, I phoned her doctor and described her symptoms.  He instructed me to get to an emergency room immediately because she was exhibiting stroke-like symptoms.  The ER was its own nightmare, they barely treated her and she was discharged at 2AM with the diagnosis that she may have had a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is a mini-stroke.

The next day I had her in a neurologist’s office, he tested her blood and ordered an MRI.

Thankfully, the results came back clean. But all too often women dismiss this sort of thing as nothing.  We don’t want to make a fuss, especially if what’s being experienced doesn’t seem like what we see on television. But there’s a difference between crying wolf for any little ache versus a symptom that may be an indication of a more serious condition. That’s why it’s a good idea to be informed.

Her doctor said she could possibly have been dehydrated—something else to watch out for in the elderly—and that sometimes there’s not an explanation for what happens with the body.

I’m thankful what my mom experienced wasn’t serious, that the trip to the ER was wasted time. In this case, I don’t mind being called a drama queen and, as she says, better safe than sorry.