NORMAN — The constant heartburn while pregnant with her daughter was the first sign for Amanda Rowell that something was wrong.
She hadn’t experienced it when pregnant with her son but knew each pregnancy was different. Then came the pain shooting down her arm, along with weakness in her hand.
“I knew something wasn’t right,” Rowell said, “but I didn’t push it.” Being healthy and in her early 30s, a heart attack was the last thing on her mind.
But after having her daughter, Paisley, in January 2012, Rowell’s heartburn didn’t go away. She was told it was probably a gas bubble left over from her emergency C-section. At home after being discharged, things started going downhill.
That evening when getting into bed, Rowell started coughing, her heart began racing, she was dripping with sweat, couldn’t catch her breath and felt like her lungs were filling with fluid. She told her husband to take her to the emergency department. They then loaded the pajama-clad family into the car and drove back to the hospital.
At first, doctors thought Rowell had pneumonia, but they later discovered she had suffered a heart attack.
“A nurse came in and asked me, ‘If needed, do you want to be resuscitated?’ I was 32, had a husband, an 8-year-old son and a newborn daughter. I couldn’t believe I was in this situation,” Rowell said.
Given only a 5 percent chance of living, Rowell said that in medical terms, she shouldn’t have made it. Three weeks after being discharged, she had open heart surgery.
Heart attacks in women rarely look like the typical chest-clutching warning symptoms portrayed in movies. Symptoms of heart attacks in women are often more subtle signs like fatigue, nausea, jaw pain, sweating or weakness.
A recent study found that one in five women under the age 55 does not experience chest pain when she is having a heart attack, according to the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Center.
“Time is muscle,” said Dr. Muhammad Anwar, M.D., interventional cardiologist. “The quicker the symptoms are recognized, the faster we are able to meet your medical needs, treat you and sometimes even save your life. The longer someone waits to seek medical attention, the more damage is being done to their heart.”
Basic symptoms in men and women include chest tightness, pressure and/or pain in the chest, neck, jaw, arms or back. Common symptoms for men include shortness of breath, weakness, unusual fatigue, cold sweat and dizziness. For women, major symptoms include unusual fatigue, sleep disturbances, shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and anxiety. Many women report their symptoms occurred as much as a month before a heart attack, according to the National Institute for Health.
While Rowell was young, didn’t smoke, wasn’t overweight and didn’t have most other heart disease risk factors, she has a family history of heart disease. Her father died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 30.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States, causing one in three deaths each year, according to the American Heart Association. That is approximately one woman every minute.
“I am happy to be here, to be alive and to share my story with everyone I meet,” Rowell said. “If something doesn’t feel right, I strongly encourage people to get it checked out and to speak up about any risk factors they might have because any little thing can save your life.”
Since symptoms vary significantly between men and women, they are often misunderstood. Residents are advised to never ignore possible symptoms of a heart attack and call 911 immediately if they or someone they know experiences heart attack symptoms.
Beswick is a community relations coordinator at Norman Regional Health System.
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