Having a heart attack felt nothing like I thought it would feel. For one thing, unlike sudden cardiac arrest, in which the heart stops beating and you stop breathing, during my heart attack (myocardial infarction), my heart continued beating, and I was walking, talking and conscious throughout despite horrific symptoms – so how could I possibly be having a heart attack?
Like most women, I’d never really thought about my heart – except maybe when running up that killer Quadra Street hill with my running group. Yet heart disease kills six times more women than breast cancer each year (in fact, it kills more women than all forms of cancer combined).
Women need to know all the potential symptoms of a heart attack – both typical and atypical. And by the way, I’ve stopped using the word “atypical“ to describe any non-chest pain symptom that women experience during a heart attack, because as paramedic and documentary filmmaker (“A Typical Heart“) Cristina D’Alessandro likes to say:
“Why are our cardiac symptoms called ‘atypical’ when women are more than half the population?”
I asked some female survivors to share their very first symptoms. Their heart attack stories may surprise you: