Women experience unusual heart attack symptoms

Posted at 9:58 PM, May 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-27 23:32:25-04

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women. What most people don't know is women's symptoms vary from men's.

Kimberly Montgomery of Milwaukee was 50-years-old when a heart attack took her by complete surprise.

"All of a sudden I became profusely hot," she said, "and I started throwing up."

She went to the nearest urgent care.

"I was diagnosed as having a heart attack, and I was told that I had to be transported to a full-service hospital," she said.

Prior to her heart attack, Kimberly was in great shape. Friends and co-workers considered her a health nut. She worked out every day by running and doing yoga. She ate well because of a high blood pressure diagnosis ten years earlier. So when the heart attack happened, she said she was in complete denial.

"I didn't have any of the signs or symptoms that are typically associated with a heart attack," she said.

Dr. Bijoy Khanderia specializes in cardiovascular disease at Aurora St. Luke's Hospital. "The general feeling is, this is reflux, this is acid, this is something else other than the heart," he said.

Women's heart attack symptoms are different than the shortness of breath and the chest and arm pain typically seen in men.

"If I'm getting indigestion, and I sit up and walk around and it gets worse, that's not a good sign," said Dr. Khanderia.

Kimberly said she had different symptoms, "One was the nausea and the vomiting. Two was the sweating profusely."

She later found out the neck pain she thought was due to exercising was also due to heart attack.

"Once I had the stents implanted the pain immediately vanished," she said.

Dr. Khanderia doesn't know why women have different symptoms than men, "If I knew the answer to that, I would be sitting in Stockholm."

But like Kimberly, he is on a mission to make women aware of the symptoms they can have and the resources that are available such as the Karen Yontz Center at Aurora St. Luke's.

"This is a resource that doesn't cost them anything," said Dr. Khanderia, "yet they can get a lot out of it, particularly on the prevention side."

In the year after Kimberly's heart attack, she became one of the spokeswomen for the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women campaign. She encourages women to stand together in the fight for their lives.

"So you look at life different," she said, "you embrace life. You're more emotional, more passionate about it."

The Karen Yontz Center offers free appointments and patients do not have to get insurance pre-authorization. For more information, click here.

For more information about the American Heart Association, click here.