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Take it to heart

Women don’t always experience ‘classic’ heart attack symptoms

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Tasya Lacy watched her diet and, as a fitness instructor, exercised regularly.

“I thought I was doing everything to control it,” said Lacy, who lives in Columbus, OH. In 2016, however, at age 50, she had a heart attack. “I had what’s called the ‘widowmaker’ – 99% blockage,” Lacy said. “I couldn’t understand it.”

During a busy week of teaching classes and preparing for a fitness event, she felt fatigued. She chalked it up to her schedule. And her nagging shoulder pain? She figured it was a pulled muscle.

On the day of the event, Lacy felt “a jolt” in her left shoulder. “I thought, ‘I must have really damaged something.’”

Later that evening, Lacy felt nauseated and didn’t have much of an appetite. It wasn’t until she went to a hospital that she fully understood what was happening.

A person has a heart attack every 40 seconds in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And although heart disease is the No. 1 killer for both sexes, women often experience very different heart attack symptoms than men.

“Women typically express very atypical symptoms,” said Margo B. Minissian, a cardiology nurse practitioner at the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Smidt Heart Institute in Los Angeles. “So when a woman is feeling anything that is different for her above the waist, we should always think of the heart first.”

Additionally, only 56% of women recognize that heart disease is their leading killer, according to the CDC. Nearly 300,000 women died of heart attacks in 2017.

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