When you think of a woman with heart disease, what pops into your head? Someone older, maybe? Perhaps someone out of shape? It's a common perception, and it nearly killed 42-year-old Wenter Blair of Frisco.
She'd experienced some extreme fatigue and profuse sweating and finally called her doctor about it.
"She says, come in. We did an EKG in her office. She said 'Heart attack, and I went, what? Excuse me, I'm sorry what did you have for breakfast because you can't be right.' She sends me to a cardiologist, cardiologist says 'It's not your heart, it's your hormones.'"
Blair, a mother of two, knew something wasn't right and asked for more tests. She woke up from one of them to her husband's shocking words.
"He says, 'You had four arteries blocked at 90 percent. I wasn't gonna let them let you die, but I knew you weren't ready for surgery, so I let them put in two stents and we have to come back and get more,'" Blair recalled.
"In my experience, there've been so many cases that have been missed both because either the patient doesn't appreciate it or the caregiver doesn't appreciate it - the physician or nursing staff or whatever it may be. First is just knowledge," explained Dr. Khera.
For example, what does a heart attack look like in women?
"The challenge sometimes is a few different things: one is women present a little differently with heart attacks, and I think that confuses some people. For example, women do get classic symptoms - chest pain, shortness of breath, it goes down the arm, but there's clear evidence that more commonly they will have atypical symptoms, meaning not the classic symptoms. It may just be fatigue, may be pains in different areas, and sometimes that confuses people," said Dr. Khera.
"We don't get to make excuses any more for our symptoms. We don't," said Blair.
Blair was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition that builds plaque in her arteries. She needed six stents to stay alive and must have her blood filtered once a week for the rest of her life. She openly talks about her experience and makes appearances on behalf of the American Heart Association trying to spread the message that heart disease is a woman's greatest health threat.
"I am confident, like me, they don't choose to leave this world anytime soon. And I want them to know what they need to look for and how they need to respond to those symptoms," Blair said.
According to the American Heart Association, here are signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:
- Chest discomfort: Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body: Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath: May occur with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs: These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness. As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort.
- But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.