In addition to chest pain, women — more than men — experience other symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
The day that changed Marty Metcalfe’s life began when she awoke with a terrible headache and tightness in the artery on the right side of her neck.
She chalked it up to the high stress of her job as a corporate recruiter. After all, Marty reasoned at the time, she was 48, ate pretty well and was in good shape. Still, she experienced more headaches and tightness in her throat as she readied for work.
“It was a very odd feeling,” Marty recalled.
So odd that Marty decided not to drive to work but to Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital. There, she told a doctor, “I think something is not quite right with me today.”
When her headaches persisted, Marty was admitted. That night, she had a mild heart attack, experiencing the worst headache of her life, chest pain and numbness in her left arm.
Tests showed four of her coronary arteries were blocked. She had a heart catheterization the following morning. Two days later, Steven W. Etoch, M.D., cardiothoracic surgeon with Norton Heart & Vascular Institute, performed quadruple bypass surgery.
“He and his group are amazing,” Marty said. “I live every day like it’s a gift and try to help others. Had I not gone to the ER, I’d probably be dead.”
Ten years later, Marty said she feels good. She eats in moderation, exercises and tries to spread the word that women should not ignore the warnings signs of a heart attack, the No. 1 killer of women in the United States.
Norton Heart & Vascular Institute Connecting Hearts for Support
Connecting Hearts meets monthly to provide education and support for men and women after a heart attack, living with a heart condition or at risk for cardiovascular disease. To learn more about the group and get notified about upcoming events, go to NortonHealthcare.com/ConnectingHearts.
Women’s Heart Attacks Are Different From Men’s
Chest pain is the most common heart attack symptom for women and men, but women — more than men — experience other symptoms. These include shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
Marty said women often ignore symptoms because they are expected to do so much for others — at work and for family and others as nurturers and caregivers. According to the American Heart Association, women often dismiss heart attack symptoms as acid reflux, the flu, normal aging — anything less serious.
In addition to helping spread the word about the signs of a heart attack, Marty is part of the Norton Heart & Vascular Institute Advocates for Healthy Hearts. These Norton Healthcare volunteers are trained to provide support to men and women with heart disease.
Marty is a living example that a full life is possible after a heart attack. Back when she awaited her own surgery, she wasn’t so sure.
“I wrote my will the night before surgery,” Marty said. “It was pretty traumatic.”
Marty also visits women in similar situations as she faced at the Norton Cardiac & Pulmonary Rehabilitation Center.
“That’s where I find the best connection with women. They are ready to learn how to recuperate. It’s a very emotional time,” Marty said. The first question she gets is: How long does it take to get back to normal? Marty tells them there’s a new normal.
According to Marty, even 10 years after her heart attack, she is still making strides in her own recuperation.
“I’m able to do more, I’m stronger every year,” Marty said.