Melissa Murphy is a 42-year-old surgical nurse. In the operating room, she’s the one who holds the human heart during bypass surgery on patients who’ve had heart attacks.
Then one night it was Melissa who was clutching her chest at 2 o’clock in the morning.
At first, she thought the pain was just her body going through caffeine withdrawal since she had given up coffee for Lent. Or maybe it was indigestion.
But Melissa’s medical training kicked in and she woke up her husband.
At this point, she started having pain in the left side of her jaw. Her husband called 911. And it’s a good thing he did… Melissa was having a heart attack.
You might think this heart attack struck out of the blue. But two separate doctors had missed the signs of Melissa’s heart trouble…
Weeks before the attack, Melissa had seen an urgent care doctor for a pain in the left side of her neck. He gave her muscle relaxants. Her primary care doctor also dismissed her symptoms. But these were the first signs of “spontaneous coronary artery dissection.” That’s a serious tearing in the artery walls of the heart related to a heart attack.
Sadly, doctors miss heart attack symptoms in women all the time.
A new study in the journal Circulation shows that more than half of doctors don’t realize a woman’s symptoms are heart-related.1
The study looked at 2,009 women and 976 men who had an acute heart attack. About 22.1% of the men and 29.5% of the women said they visited a doctor for their symptoms before their attack. Only 37% of those men said that their doctors did not think their symptoms were heart-related.
But a whopping 53% of the women were told it wasn’t their heart.
The study also found that both men and women had chest pain before their heart attack. But women often don’t call it “pain.”
They describe it more like pressure, tightness or discomfort.
And chest pain isn’t the only thing women report. The study found that 61.9% of women had three or more additional non-chest symptoms. These additional symptoms often confuse doctors.
In addition, most doctors don’t recognize that women develop a different kind of heart disease…
Avoid the “Broken Heart Syndrome” Your Cardiologist Might Miss
You see, doctors are used to looking for big blockages in the arteries.
But women don’t develop big obstructions. The walls of their arteries are smaller.
Instead, women tend to accumulate plaque more evenly inside the arteries and smaller blood vessels. A blockage that would look harmless in a man could be deadly for a woman. That’s why some women suffer sudden heart attacks, even after their cardiologists tell them their arteries are clear!
Doctors also look for symptoms of angina or low oxygen supply to the heart.
In men, angina often feels like pressure or squeezing in the chest. This feeling may extend to the arms.
But women with angina tend to describe a sharp, burning chest pain. They are also more likely to have pain in the neck, jaw, throat, abdomen, or back.
Mental or emotional stress also is more likely to trigger angina pain in women than in men. In some women under stress the arteries won’t expand properly or they go into spasms. This is often called “broken heart syndrome” and is more common in women than men.2
For decades I’ve been educating women about the signs of a heart attack. But the American Heart Association (AHA) didn’t recognize women’s unique symptoms until very recently. They finally issued a scientific statement on women and heart disease in 2016.3
Here are the signs of heart attack in women:
- Pain, pressure, squeezing, fullness, or discomfort in the center of the chest. The feeling may last more than a few minutes, or go away and come back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the shoulders, upper back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing (with or without chest discomfort).
- Breaking out in a cold sweat, dizziness, or lightheadedness.
- Nausea or vomiting.
Those signs may also be accompanied by unusual fatigue, weakness or fainting. You may feel palpitations and abdominal discomfort that mimics indigestion. And sometimes the only warning sign is a general feeling of anxiety, dread, or that something’s wrong.
If you have any of these signs, call 911 and get to a hospital RIGHT AWAY. Studies show women with heart attack symptoms wait about 54 hours to get to a doctor.4 Those hours can mean the difference between life and death.
While you wait for the EMS to arrive, chew and swallow a regular 325 mg aspirin. There’s strong evidence that during a heart attack, a single aspirin could save your life.
Protect Your Heart with These Three Supplements
Recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack is good. But even better is preventing a heart attack from happening in the first place. Here are three heart-saving supplements I recommend to all my patients:
- CoQ10: This high-octane fuel is used by every cell in your body. But it’s especially important to energy-hungry organs like your heart. That’s why when your heart’s supply of CoQ10 drops — as it often does with heart disease and age — a CoQ10 supplement can bring you immediate, lifesaving benefits.
Your ancestors got plenty of CoQ10 from their diet. The highest concentrations are found in red meat, like beef, mutton, goat, ostrich and rabbit — particularly organ meats like heart and liver — as well as freshwater fish like trout and fruits like oranges.
But it’s hard to get enough naturally. So I recommend taking a CoQ10 supplement. If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, take at least 100 mg a day. The more common form of CoQ10 is ubiquinone. But it’s the ubiquinol form that’s the most potent. Ubiquinol carries an extra electron and is eight times more powerful than ubiquinone.
- Magnesium: It still surprises me that traditional doctors refuse to look at magnesium as a treatment for heart disease. In my clinic, I’ve observed that getting enough magnesium can prevent and reverse heart disease in most people.
A study from Harvard backs this up. It found that women with the highest levels of magnesium had a 77% lower risk of sudden cardiac death, compared to women with the lowest levels.5
Leafy greens are good sources of magnesium. But modern farming practices have stripped much of the magnesium content in our soil. That’s why I recommend supplements.
Take between 600 mg and 1,000 mg a day. There are many different forms on the market. Avoid magnesium oxide or glutamate. Magnesium glycine, citrate, and chloride are better choices.
- Garlic: Numerous studies show that this pungent herb cuts your risk of heart attack — and stroke — by 50%. It does this by reducing the risk factors that can lead to heart failure. For example, garlic…
- inhibits the formation of arteriosclerotic plaque
- slows down calcification of the heart
- lowers blood pressure better than Big Pharma’s drugs
- lowers the risk of blood clots
Even the conservative American Heart Association has concluded that garlic stops artery clogging and lowers blood pressure.
You should eat one to two cloves of garlic per day. When preparing garlic in a meal, crush it and let it sit for at least 15 minutes. This activates enzymes in the garlic that produce the powerful heart benefits.
You can take garlic as a supplement if you don’t want to eat it. Make sure it’s one that has at least 3,600 mcg of allicin (garlic’s active ingredient) per dose.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD, CNS
1.Lichtman J., et al. “Sex Differences in the Presentation and Perception of Symptoms Among Young Patients With Myocardial Infarction: Evidence from the VIRGO Study (Variation in Recovery: Role of Gender on Outcomes of Young AMI Patients).” Circulation. 2018 Feb.
2. Chou AY., et al. “Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection Misdiagnosed as Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy: A Case Series.” Can J Cardiol. 2015 Aug.
3. Mehta LS., et al. “Acute Myocardial Infarction in Women: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association.” Circulation. January 25, 2016.
4. Kaur R., Lopez V., Thompson DR. “Factors influencing Hong Kong Chinese patients’ decision-making in seeking early treatment for acute myocardial infarction.” Res Nurs Health. 2006.
5. Chiuve S., et al. “Plasma and dietary magnesium and risk of sudden cardiac death in women.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Feb.