There’s a pretty good chance someone you know has had a heart attack. Maybe it was even you.
The statistics are staggering. Each year, about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those heart attacks, 525,000 happen to people who have never had one, and 210,000 occur in people who have had a previous heart attack.
Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States. It’s the cause of death for one in three women every year — about one woman dies from it every minute. A woman’s risk for breast cancer is still high, about one in eight women, but not nearly as high as her risk for heart disease. And while heart attacks present signs and symptoms in women, they aren’t as obvious as they are in men.
Janel Olson, a cardiology nurse practitioner for Sanford Health, says women can still have chest discomfort, but the more likely symptoms of a heart attack include shortness of breath, nausea and discomfort between the shoulder blades and back.
Symptoms stacked up
Sigrid Strebe is a relatively healthy woman. In fact, she owns her own yoga studio in Bismarck, North Dakota, and has been a yoga instructor for a decade. In the summer of 2018, she started noticing symptoms that didn’t seem normal. They worsened during a 21-mile bike ride at Harmon Lake, just north of Mandan, North Dakota.
“Which is out, kind of remote because there’s nothing out there, it’s an open highway,” said Strebe. “And, I found out later, my friend had asked why I sucked so bad. I was having so much trouble out there, and I could hardly keep up.”
The next morning, she struggled to get out of bed. She went out to a rifle range with her husband. Again, she felt lethargy and a heaviness in her chest. When she got home, she laid down. That’s when a painful reality sank in.
“My temperature spiked. And then I got very nauseous and ended up in the bathroom for a while, and I was so hot, just insanely hot,” Strebe said. “Chest pressure, throat pressure, in the back, headache, an insane headache.”
She then experienced radiating pain down her arms. At that point, her husband took her to the Sanford Emergency Department.
“He looked at me, the doctor looked at me, and all I could hear him say very calmly is, ‘She’s having a heart attack.’ And I’m like, there’s no freaking way I’m having a heart attack,” she said.
Healthy women ‘still have heart attacks’
Strebe still can’t fathom the fact that she had a heart attack.
“What the hell? Seriously, I don’t have high blood pressure, my BMI is decent, I don’t have any risk factors for diabetes, and in my family it isn’t really hereditary,” Strebe said.
“Sometimes people who are really healthy, that exercise regularly, they still have heart attacks, so those symptoms can’t be ignored,” said Olson, the cardiology nurse practitioner. “Women in general are so busy taking care of everybody else that they don’t take the time to take care of themselves.”
For Strebe, life has returned to normal after she had two stents placed to clear the 100 percent blockage in her arteries. And she’s sharing her story with others, especially women.
Since Strebe’s heart attack in July, she has spoken to many large groups. She wants to bring awareness to women that the symptoms for a heart attack are much different than they are for men.
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