Woman mistakes heart attack for indigestion


The 43-year-old woman survived, but her story is a warning that while heart attacks can appear very different, they can still be lethal.

It was a New Year's party that Vicky Carney would never forget.

"I had a little pressure in my chest, I had some nausea," she said. "But it was a New Year's Eve party, and I was eating lots of things and I thought something didn't agree with me."

She vomited, but stayed because she was the co-host.

"I didn't go home and I didn't tell anybody because I didn't want to upset anyone at the party," Carney said.

It turns out she was having a heart attack. And she had two more heart attacks that she mistook for nausea the next day. She couldn't believe it.

"I'm 43, I'm a woman, I don't drink or smoke, I'm healthy, I'm fit -- I can't be having a heart attack," Carney said.

Carney had no risk factors, no high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

So how do you know if you're having indigestion, or a heart attack?

"Indigestion, particularly if it radiates into the middle of the chest with sweating, particularly if it doesn't go away with Mylanta or antacids or something like that, you've got to be worried that it's a heart attack," UTHealth cardiologist Dr. Richard Smalling said.

Dr. Smalling says if antacids don't work in 15 or 20 minutes, don't drive and call 911 instead. EMTs can start treating a heart attack in the ambulance.

"Symptoms for heart attacks vary. It's not just the elephant sitting on your chest," Dr. Smalling said. "It could be symptoms like indigestion, a symptom like indigestion. It could be a symptom like heartburn. You could think you have the stomach flu. But it could be a heart attack, and if you take the remedies for those symptoms, like antacids or whatever and you don't feel any better, call 911 and get an electrocardiogram and make sure you're not having a heart attack."

Carney paid a price for delaying.

"I lost about 10 percent of the bottom of my heart. It's dead," she said.

She's taking medicines now and she's better.

"If you have any doubts, go to the doctor. I survived but I could have easily not survived," Carney said.

When you realize you are having a heart attack, time is critical. The nearest hospital isn't always the best for heart attack treatment. By calling 911, heart attack care begins in the ambulance and they can take you to hospitals that specialize in emergency treatments for heart attacks.

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