Not the ‘classic TV heart attack’ – Woman, 43, on lesser-known signs

Dr Nighat reveals heart attacks symptoms in women

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The popular depiction of a heart attack usually portrays a person, clutching their chest while experiencing agonising pain. But the medical emergency doesn’t always present as the “classic TV heart attack”. In fact, the symptoms that target women are often more subtle. This is something Emma Shannon, 43, knows far too well.

Having recently opened her own bar in Reykjavik, Iceland, the woman was feeling full of energy after returning from a holiday.

However, she suddenly started feeling so unwell that she had to lie down during her second shift back at work.

She told The i: “Out of the blue, I started to have the worst indigestion I’ve ever felt. The pain got worse and worse. 

“I lay down on the floor to try to rest, thinking it would ease, but that didn’t help so I called a taxi and went home.”

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Her partner took her to see a doctor the next day. The expert examined her tummy and diagnosed her with a stomach ulcer. 

But five days and a prescription medication later, the pain hadn’t budged, inviting new symptoms to the mix.

Emma said: “I started to feel like I had anxiety – shooting pains, cold sweats – which was weird, because I don’t suffer from anxiety.”

The 43-year-old paid another visit to her doctor, who was “rude” but asked if she had a test to check her heart’s rhythm and electrical activity called ECG done.

Emma said: “He said, ‘I won’t see you again because you’re fine, but off you go and have one,’ but when the nurse hooked me up she went white.”

The woman was having a heart attack, which came as a shock. She added: “I honestly thought the classic TV heart attack would be how it was. 

“Pains in one arm. Clutching at the chest, turning red and keeling over in front of a bunch of horrified onlookers. 

“These are the kind of symptoms you are told to look out for. I didn’t really feel like I had that at all.”

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Fortunately, Emma eventually received good care and she is now back to her full strength.

Sadly, her experience is not so unusual for women. A study, led by scientists at Imperial College London, found that nearly 12,000 women in the UK have missed out on appropriate care, with some even dying as a result.

The researchers found that five percent of women who had a heart attack were wrongly classified as not at high risk of death.

This research looked at data from 420,000 patients across Europe between 2005 and 2017.

Previously speaking on ITV’s This Morning, Dr Nighat Arif warned that sexism is driving the lack of awareness around heart attack symptoms in women.

She said: “In women, the symptoms are slightly insidious, they just might not get that ache.

“They might just get that pressure or feeling of fullness, pain sometimes in both arms.

“They might have other symptoms where they just feel really tired, fatigued, and achy, or shoulder blade pain, or feeling lightheaded and dizziness.

“Those are all symptoms that could indicate that a cardiovascular event is either going to happen or about to happen. And that’s what we miss in women.”

According to the British Heart Foundation, the most common symptoms in women include sudden chest pain, feeling sick, sweaty, light-headed or short of breath, a sudden feeling of anxiety similar to a panic attack, excessive coughing and wheezing. 

The NHS urges calling 999 and asking for an ambulance if you suspect a heart attack.

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