According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although coronary artery disease-heart disease-is the No. 1 killer of women in this country, many women who died suddenly from the disease reported no symptoms.
That may be due to the fact that women's symptoms of heart disease and heart attack may not be the same as the more-publicized symptoms felt by men.
"Men and women may have similar symptoms of a heart attack, but sometimes a woman's symptoms are quite different," said Jennifer Offenberger, director of marketing and public relations for the Memorial Health System.
JASMINE ROGERS The Marietta Times
To raise awareness for National Go Red For Women Day, staff and residents at Heartland of Marietta donned red and formed a ‘human’ heart recently. The American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women Day is designed to highlight cardiovascular health for women.
"Both may experience shortness of breath, but women may not have that 'elephant on your chest' feeling men often have," she said.
Offenberger said women often develop a very run down feeling and experience what feels like a backache.
"Women may also have nausea and vomiting," she said. "And the onset of a heart attack can be sudden or gradual."
Know the symptoms
The most common heart attack symptoms for women include:
Pain or pressure over the chest that travels to the arm or jaw.
Burning sensation in the chest or upper abdomen.
Shortness of breath.
Source: The Cleveland Clinic.
St. Patrick's Day 1995 is a day Marietta resident Jeanette Barker, now 79, will never forget.
"I was about 62 at the time and was working for a chemical company in Hudson, Ohio," she said. "We were having lunch. I started feeling funny and thought I had food poisoning."
Barker said she had severe nausea and then threw up in the restroom.
"My skin had turned gray," she said. "My boss took one look at me and said we were going to the hospital."
There doctors told Barker she had suffered a heart attack.
"I said 'How could that be? All I did was throw up,'" she said. "But the doctor said because of the vomiting he thought there was probably a blockage in my arteries."
Barker was sent to Akron General Hospital where doctors discovered one of the two main arteries to her heart had a 98 percent blockage and the other was blocked 100 percent.
"The doctor told me I would have an angioplasty to try and loosen the blockages," she said.
Barker said she hasn't had another episode since.
But looking back she noted there were some aspects of her life that likely put her at risk for the heart attack.
"We always ate food with butter or cooked it in bacon grease," Barker said. "And I was a smoker for about 50 years before the attack."
She said heart issues also existed for other members of her family. At least three have also experienced heart attacks.
The risks of developing heart disease are basically the same for men or women, according to the American Heart Association. Some of the major factors include smoking, which increases a person's risk two to four times that of a non-smoker.
High blood cholesterol and high blood pressure are also major factors that can be dealt with through diet and medications.
When high blood pressure exists with obesity, smoking, high blood cholesterol levels or diabetes, the risk of heart attack or stroke increases significantly.
A lifestyle of physical inactivity is another risk factor. Regular physical activity helps prevent heart and blood vessel disease, according to the American Heart Association. Physical activity also helps control cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity and can lower blood pressure.
Excess body fat, especially at the waistline, is another factor in developing heart disease, even if there are no other risk factors. And people with diabetes are at serious risk of cardiovascular disease. The heart association reports at least 65 percent of diabetics die of some form of heart or blood vessel disease.
Last November Julie Edwards, 56, of New Matamoras, was at her job at The Peoples Savings Bank in Newport when she discovered her car had a flat tire and decided to fix it.
"The lug nuts were really tight, so I had to pull hard on the tire iron. It took a lot of effort, but I eventually got the tire off," she said. "Just before I finished the job my jaw was hurting. Then my chest and back started hurting."
Edwards went back inside the bank to rest, but the pain continued.
"I asked my boss, 'Do you suppose I could be having a heart attack?'" she said.
The administrator didn't think it was an attack, so Edwards took a couple acetaminophen pills and sat down for a while.
"But I still didn't feel right," she said. "I was feeling warm so I went out to sit in the car where it was cooler."
When that didn't help she decided to call 911.
"I really think God was telling me to make that call," Edwards said.
An ambulance arrived and transported her to Marietta Memorial Hospital where doctors confirmed she was having a heart attack.
"They did a heart catheterization and found two blockages in my arteries," Edwards said. "They said my heart was only operating at 15 percent of its capacity, and normal capacity is around 55 percent."
Two stents were installed to help keep her arteries open, and within six days her heart was operating at 40 to 45 percent capacity, enough to satisfy her cardiologist.
"I'm back at work and feeling better now," Edwards said.
But the experience was a wake-up call for her.
"For women I think the main thing is to get health screenings. See your doctor on a regular basis and have regular checkups," Edwards said.
She said before the heart attack her doctor had wanted to put her on cholesterol-lowering medications, but she had some reservations about taking the medicine.
"Now I'm taking both cholesterol and blood pressure medications, and I take an aspirin every day," Edwards said.