Heart attack or indigestion?

June 22, 2009 12:40:17 PM PDT
A 45-year-old woman who runs and rides her bike 20 miles in a day isn't likely to have a heart attack. At least, that's what she thought. She blamed her discomfort on indigestion, but it turned out to be a major case of heart attack confusion.

"I run, I'm healthy. I don't eat much red meat. I'm not your typical heart attack patient," victim Kathy Boucher told us.

So when Boucher had pressure in her chest last year, she ignored it and went to Beaumont and back for her daughter's soccer tournament.

"We had had a Christmas party the night before and I had had several cocktails, so first I assumed it was hung over or indigestion," Boucher said.

But she ended up on Life Flight having a major heart attack.

Dr. Richard Smalling, who is a UT Cardiologist at Memorial Hermann, put the stent in her heart and used an umbrella device to close a hole that caused the heart attack.

The thing to remember about heart attacks is that it's not all the elephant sitting on your chest or pain in the left arm. The symptoms can vary, and they can vary between men and women.

"Indigestion that doesn't go away after using Pepcid or Mylanta or whatever, you have to think twice about it being a heart attack," said Dr. Smalling.

If you can't get your breath, or feel squeezed, that's a red flag.

"We had one patient who had gone and had three root canals for jaw pain and he was having chest pain from his heart and he died," Dr. Smalling said.

The man was resuscitated, but Dr. Smalling says don't ignore unusual symptoms or pains, especially if it doesn't go away.

"If you have pain go to the doctor," Dr. Smalling advised.

"We as women need to know your body," Boucher advised. "Know when there's something really wrong."

Heart disease, heart attacks and strokes kill half of the female victims. Dr. Smalling says if a woman develops breast cancer, her chance of dying is 1 in 16. That's some eight times lower than death from heart attack, heart disease and stroke.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter

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