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9 Sneaky Signs of a Potential Heart Attack

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Listening to our bodies has become a new normal since the onset of COVID, with many assessing symptoms to rule out allergies or the flu or COVID-19. Since the start of the pandemic, 621,000 Americans have died, but COVID-19 is still not the number-one killer of Americans. Are we listening to our heart? Don’t miss these 9 sneaky signs of America’s most fatal killer—heart disease.

1. New onset of symptoms that happen during exercise or exertion (like nausea)  

Bob Kiefer, 75, a die-hard surfer from the OC, began experiencing shortness of breath following a morning surf in a remote location. Calls for help went unanswered due to no cell service. Luckily, a film crew was shooting nearby, and a paramedic was able to help secure an ambulance. Bob was in cardiogenic shock when he arrived at the hospital. 

2. Chest pain that comes on with exertion and goes away with rest (angina)

Weeks after giving birth to her baby, Monica Bales, age 31, of Detroit, felt numbness in her arm, chest discomfort, and severe nausea after shoveling snow. But when paramedics received inconclusive test results, they determined she could stay home. A few days later, her symptoms returned, and after being rushed to the hospital, her cardiologist determined she had suffered a spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) heart attack, which caused her to go into cardiogenic shock.

3. Extreme Fatigue

Iman Dorty (Columbia, SC), suffered debilitating migraines every day, losing her appetite and feeling constantly fatigued when she was pregnant with her first child at 28 years old. For weeks, Iman was a regular at a local LA hospital, where ER physicians told her that her migraines and fatigue were directly related to a difficult but normal pregnancy. Eventually, Iman suffered a severe seizure, two strokes, and learned her heart was failing.

4. Throat or jaw pain

A devoted husband, grandfather and retired pediatric anesthesiologist and critical care physician from Seattle, Dr. Jeff Morray was in good health prior to the COVID-19 lockdown. With his gym closed, he began riding his bike to stay active, but began to feel pain in his chest and jaw while riding up hills. Even doctors are not immune to critical health issues. After consulting with a local cardiologist, Dr. Morray was told he had lesions in three of his heart vessels, including his left anterior descending artery, also known as “the widow-maker.”

5. Shortness of breath

Kris Kirkman, 48, was a devoted husband, father and businesses man from Zachary, LA, when he started experiencing severe shortness of breath and fluid buildup around his abdomen. Though he has a family history of heart disease and has lived with hypertension for 20 years, Kris rarely saw a physician. When his symptoms became worse, Kris’ concerned wife brought him to local hospital where he was then diagnosed with congestive heart failure. 

6. Indigestion and heart burn

Ramon Rinkin, 41, is an active-duty Chief Navy Yeoman, husband, and father of three. Ramon experienced symptoms of indigestion and heartburn, but he brushed off the signs. He never thought a stomachache would end up knocking him out. While getting ready for work, Ramon suddenly went into cardiac arrest and collapsed in his bathroom. Ramon was in cardiogenic shock and coded.

7. Gastrointestinal distress

Sebastian Rojas, 41, has type 2 diabetes, and although he has a family history of heart disease, he never suspected he could have a heart attack at such a young age. Fresh off paternity leave, he was on a Zoom call when he suddenly felt gastrointestinal distress. The gassy feeling in his stomach was so unbearable he decided to go to urgent care. He eventually started to feel shortness of breath, so he went straight to the hospital, where tests revealed Sebastian had multiple blockages, including in his left anterior descending artery. He was in cardiogenic shock.

8. Dizzy or lightheaded

Life is all about second chances. And for Daniel Gropper, 59, of Columbus, OH, his was a second chance at life. As a recovering addict, Daniel was learning to be kind to his body, and remain sober. An occasional dizzy spell did not seem abnormal and went away shortly after sitting down. He attributed them to “just getting older”. One day at work a dizzy spell did not dissipate quickly, and coworkers called 911 for help. He was immediately transported to a local hospital where cardiologists discovered Daniel’s left main artery was blocked, and he was in cardiogenic shock

9. Nausea

Wendy Canty, 53, from Framingham, MA, had always taken great pride in her health. After persistent bouts of nausea and dizziness, she was surprised to learn she had severe blockages in her heart. She was sent to Tufts Medical Center in Boston for a coronary artery bypass grafting surgery. After a difficult two-month recovery, she was able to hug her daughter again. Less than two years after Wendy’s first heart surgery, she started experiencing similar symptoms. After seeing her cardiologist, Wendy discovered three of the four bypasses from her first surgery had become blocked again. This was devastating news for someone who had already endured such a tough recovery.

If you are experiencing any new symptoms with exertion or a persistent symptom of being unwell, even if it is non-specific, I strongly urge you to seek a medical evaluation. If your symptoms are severe and unrelenting, dial 911 for immediate medical attention. 

Too many times, patients dismiss their symptoms as either aging, weight gain, lack of exercise, or stress, only to discover they missed the warning signs of an impending heart attack that could have been prevented. If your symptoms persist following a medical evaluation or if you have an intuition that something is wrong, trust yourself and your body, seek a second opinion.

About The Author
Bobbi Bogaev, M.D

Bobbi Bogaev, M.D., is the medical director, heart failure, at Abiomed, the maker of Impella. Impella is the only U.S. FDA-approved percutaneous heart pump technology indicated for patients with severe coronary artery disease requiring high-risk PCI. Prior to Abiomed, Dr. Bogaev was a practicing cardiologist and the chief of cardiology at Bon Secours Health System in Richmond, VA, director of Texas Heart Institute’s Advanced Heart Failure Outreach Program, and medical director of Texas Heart Institute’s Heart Transplant Program. She received her Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) from the University of Virginia and holds a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.