Charisse Green has always been the “matriarch,” the center for her family and extended family, the “go to” person when anyone had a problem or just needed a word of encouragement.
She’s been the primary caregiver for her husband, who has had a series of serious health conditions. She’s nursed him through all of them, driving him to all of his doctor’s appointments and — because he has to walk with a crutch — she helps him with day to day tasks.
While now in her senior years, Green has always looked healthy, keeping trim and active.
But it was at the end of another typical busy day when Green started feeling “strange and woozy,” and started feeling some chest pain. She called out to her husband to hand her a couple of aspirins, which she promptly took, and asked him to call 9-1-1 before she fell to the ground.
“The doctor in the hospital told me that I saved my own life by taking that aspirin. Aspirin thins out the blood, which helped give me a little more time to get help,” she said.
Her husband had a heart attack years earlier, she said, so Green was aware that she was experiencing a possible heart attack and had the fortitude to quickly try to help herself.
Green said she doesn’t want to repeat that day.
“I don’t want to go through that again. I can’t help my husband or anyone else if I go down too.”
That reality check is causing Green to work on lightening her stress load. While she has resumed her care for her husband, she is also taking time out for herself.
“I wouldn’t think of taking a break before, but now I’ve learned to ask others for a little help and they come in about once a week so that I can take a leisurely walk or take some time to visit with a friend,” she said.
Heart Attack Symptoms
The most well-known heart attack symptoms include chest pain and radiating discomfort in the left arm. But, explains Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, national spokesperson for the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women Movement, there can be several other ways your body may tell you when something isn’t quite right with your heart.
There can also be silent heart attack symptoms women should be most aware of, including shortness of breath, nausea, back and jaw pain.
“I had one patient who would feel her jaw start to hurt every time she got on a treadmill,” Steinbaum said. “But once she stopped, her jaw pain would go away. She went to a dentist, but there wasn’t anything wrong with her teeth.”
This discomfort continued until the woman experienced a heart attack. When she came into Steinbaum’s office after the event, it was evident that the jaw pain was directly linked to what was happening in her heart.
“Sometimes the heart isn’t able to give a good signal and, instead, the pain can radiate to the neck, jaw and back,” Steinbaum said.
Many symptoms can pop up as warning signs. Irregular pain in the lower or upper back can indicate stress to the heart muscle, Steinbaum said, and women often struggle to breathe a few weeks before experiencing a heart attack.
At just 37-years-old, Lilly Rocha was at the height of her career. However, the extreme stress from constant world travel and working more than 60 hours a week as a senior director of an event management firm had taken a heavy toll on her body.
One morning, she woke up with severe jaw and chest pain, and the entire left side of her body felt numb. Despite Rocha’s discomfort, she decided to go to work because “I didn’t have a clue what was going on.”
Once at the office, Rocha mentioned the unusual symptoms to her boss, who insisted she was suffering a heart attack. A company colleague, and a heart attack survivor, immediately volunteered to take her to the emergency room at Long Beach Memorial.
A year before her heart attack, Rocha began experiencing “a periodic tingling on my left chest area,” but didn’t understand the symptom’s potential danger. Though not typical, Rocha attributed the chest pain to the stress and lack of sleep from her demanding job.
However, a few days prior to having a heart attack, her friends and family noticed significant memory loss. “People would ask me simple things and I couldn’t remember,” Rocha said.
Now, she makes certain to take care of her heart and body, and to pay attention when potential symptoms arise. Remaining conscious of her cardiac health is a habit she continues to work on every day.
“When I’m under a lot of stress, I start having chest pains. I still have to be careful with my lifestyle and workload,” Rocha said.
Trust Your Gut
If you aren’t feeling normal or are experiencing any of the symptoms, head to your local emergency room. In the event that you may be having a heart attack, it is better to get checked out.
If you wait, there can be more damage to your heart and complications that could affect your ability to recover.
“A women’s intuition is a very strong thing; don’t ever discount it,” Steinbaum said. “Ninety percent of my women patients who’ve just had a heart attack tell me that they knew it was their heart all along. That they just had a feeling.”
“If you are used to doing a certain amount of activity. and then all of a sudden you can’t get enough air, that is when I get concerned,” Steinbaum said.
Flu-like symptoms are often reported weeks and days before a heart attack. Television personality Rosie O’Donnell reportedly regurgitated a few times before she experienced a heart attack in early 2012