Cindy Steger completed a 5k race, finishing in her normal good time in August 2004. She went to a friend's house where she suddenly felt a sensation of heat begin at the small of her back and work its way up to her neck, making its way all over her body. She was also lightheaded and felt faint.
Bad feelings — chest tightness and shortness of breath — continued into the next day, so she took it easy when she couldn't get in to see her physician right away.
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On Day 3, the Williamsburg, Va., resident felt better but still visited the doctor where her blood pressure and pulse were normal. She completed a workout in record time, but then pain in her arms, shortness of breath and chest tightness hit her again. By evening, she was better.
The next day, she felt fine and cleaned out a small gutter. Within 15 minutes, arm pain and chest pressure returned. She made it to the bed and passed out, waking up to continued pain.
On Day 5, the physician finally did an EKG and sent her to a cardiologist who referred her to the hospital for blood work. That evening, the cardiologist called to tell her she had had a heart attack and needed to go to the hospital immediately.
Q: Your symptoms?
A: My symptoms were the typical male ones — nausea; profuse sweating, pain in one or both arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, stomach or back; pressure or squeezing in the center of the chest; and shortness of breath. My husband thought I pulled a muscle in my arms and my friends thought I was dehydrated. What kept me from accepting that I was having a heart attack was the thought that I was having pain in both arms. All the literature I had ever heard or read said pain in one arm, predominantly the left arm — that's the denial I clung to.
Q: What is your family's medical history?
A: My oldest brother died from a heart attack at age 29, but he lived a hard life and did not take care of himself. My dad suffered his first heart attack at age 62, which is two years beyond what cardiologists consider a family history risk factor; he passed away from congestive heart failure in November. With my brother now factored into the equation, we're now considered a family with heart problems. After my heart attack, everyone in our family had their blood tested, a specialized one called a VAP test (subdivides all your cholesterol particles and gives a more accurate risk assessment than a typical cholesterol profile). We found out we carry the worst type of HDL (good) and the worst type of LDL (bad) cholesterol. We also found our cholesterol comes from ourselves, not food.
Q: Your treatment?
A: I've had every typical cardio test done, at least twice. The doctors did not open my blocked artery because the risk of opening it and potentially rupturing it was greater than the good I would get. I just take an 81mg aspirin, a beta blocker and a statin. I really don't worry about anything; I figure when it's my time, it's my time.
Q: Your advice?
A: Women need to be their own health advocate. If you don't like the response from one doctor, see another one. Our neighbor's 40-year-old daughter did just that. She knew something was wrong but her doctor told her she was perfectly fine, so she got a second opinion. She just got out of the hospital after having a stent placed in an artery. Luckily, she didn't stop with that first doctor.
WARNINGS FOR WOMEN
For men and women, the most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort, says Ronald McKechnie. He's on the staff at Sentara Heart Hospital in Norfolk, Va.; co-director for cardiovascular education at Eastern Virginia Medical School, also in Norfolk; and a cardiologist with Cardiovascular Associates in Chesapeake, Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Va.
Women, however, are more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, he says, particularly:
Shortness of breath.
Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort.
Nausea or vomiting.
Abdominal pain or “heartburn.”
Lightheadedness or dizziness.
Unusual or unexplained fatigue.
Even if you're not sure it's a heart attack, have it checked out — tell a doctor about your symptoms. Minutes matter. Fast action saves lives — maybe your own. Don't wait more than 5 minutes to call 9-1-1.
HEART HEALTHY TIPS
Control your blood pressure.
Remain physically active.
Control your cholesterol.
Attain an ideal weight.
Manage your diabetes aggressively.
Follow a heart-healthy diet.
Visit www.americanheart.org and www.goredforwomen.org for more on a healthy heart.
Home: Williamsburg, Va.
Career: Retired police detective; federal investigator (contractor)
Family: Husband Jeff; stepdaughter Stacy and family; stepson Steve and family.
Pastimes: Any sporting activity; traveling; I still participate in the local 5k races and won the Grand Prix Female Walking award for ‘04-'06.
Words I live by: No whining; there's always someone who is worse off than you.
© 2008, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.).
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PHOTO (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): AMX-2008-08-29T08:14:00-04:00