How do you know you're having a heart attack? Severe chest pains, right? Well, not always. Sometimes, the symptoms of heart attack are much more subtle, especially for women. A heart attack could actually feel like the flu, according to the American Heart Association, or it could feel like extreme nausea.
"On Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015, I suddenly became wide awake at 5 a.m. I lay in bed with my eyes open for maybe a minute, thinking, 'Hmm, this is weird,' and then, 'I feel kind of funny,'"Palmer wrote on WaPo. "Within about 30 seconds I rushed to the bathroom and threw up. I felt very cold and climbed back into bed with my husband and snuggled back under the covers. A minute later, though, I knew I was going to be sick again. I figured I was coming down with a virus, but it was strange how suddenly it had come on."
Although Palmer just thought it was a stomach bug, her husband encouraged her to go to the hospital where she jokingly said, "My husband thinks I'm having a heart attack."
The doctor asked a bunch of questions to check her heart health.
"Nope, I don’t have chest pain. Nope, I don’t smoke. Nope, my cholesterol is normal," she wrote. "Nope, I don’t have any history of heart problems in my family. I exercise regularly. I eat well. I have never had a surgery or even been seriously ill."
The results of an EKG proved that she was, in fact, having a heart attack and if her husband hadn't insisted that she go to the hospital, Palmer could have died.
"Plaque had ruptured in the wall of my right coronary artery, which caused the clot to form and can produce the sort of nausea that made me throw up," she wrote. "That was my only warning sign. If I had gone back to sleep that morning, as I had wanted to, I may not have awakened, and if I did, there probably would have been devastating damage to my heart."
Her story is a warning tale for women to pay attention, and to take care of their health. What seems like a stomach bug could be something much more serious. And Palmer is not the exception to the rule. While chest pain is the most common symptom of heart attack in both women and men, the kind of heart attack Palmer had — which is often called a "silent" heart attack — is much more common than doctors previously thought, according to Harvard Health.
Women are more at risk for silent heart attacks than men, which could explain why we still think of heart disease as a men's problem, even though it is the number one killer of women.
So, ladies, please don't push nausea (or shortness of breath or pain in your jaw or back, which are other symptoms of silent heart attacks) off as something that's not a big deal, especially if it comes on suddenly without a clear explanation. Paying attention to these symptoms just might save your life.