Editor’s Note: As a WomenHeart Champion, I tell “My Heart Story” to educate women about heart disease. The following message was delivered at the Alpha Kappa Alpha Professional Women’s Sorority in Miami Gardens, Florida.
On Martin Luther King’s birthday in 2016, I awoke at about 12:30 am with a horrific toothache. I got out of bed and meandered into the kitchen to get some water. I was incredibly tired. After a few moments, the pain began to subside. In my exhaustion, I thought, “I must have imagined that,” and I headed back to bed. I had just experienced two symptoms of a heart attack — referred pain in my jaw and extreme fatigue.
About 4 to 5 hours later, the “toothache” returned. I wondered, “Could this be heart-related?” My birth mother had died of a heart attack at the age of 48. It was early in the morning, but in this marvelous age of technology, Dr. Google is an on-call go to. My diagnosis was that I may be or may not be having a heart attack. Deciding not to rely on indecision, I contacted my physician as soon as her office opened. She said, “Go to the ER and don’t drive yourself.” The Emergency Room physician confirmed I had indeed had a heart attack.
Fast forward almost one year to the date. I was exercising in Cardiac Rehab when I noticed some pressure in my jaw. It wasn’t pain — just pressure or heaviness in my lower jaw. I asked a nurse to take my blood pressure. It was elevated, but for someone who was working out, that would be expected. I explained what had happened and was told to contact my cardiologist.
Within a week, I was in the Cardiac Cath lab again, my left anterior descending artery (sometimes referred to as the widow maker) was 95% occluded and was stented. I had avoided a second heart attack.
Our bodies are truly remarkable. They talk to us — sometimes in unusual ways. Heart attacks vary in intensity and symptomatically. While some come on suddenly, many have warning signs, hours, days, or even weeks in advance. Here are some symptoms:
- Pressure, pain or tightness in your chest, arms, neck, or jaw
- Nausea, indigestion, heartburn, or abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweat
- Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness
Do not ignore these signs.
I get it, we are all busy. Perhaps you have a stressful job, or you’re taking care of the family (often both), and for many in the sandwich generation, you’re taking care of parents. Women find themselves focused on everyone and everything else, disregarding signals our bodies are sending.
Here is my message to all of you. The next time your body speaks to you, pay attention, whether it’s SHOUTING at, or whispering to you, LISTEN! You may not get a second chance.