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Heart Health Author: Staff Editor Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:06:33 PM

Heart Attacks Don't Always Start With Chest Pain

By Staff Editor
Feb 6, 2014 - 3:38:31 PM

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( - OAKLAND, Calif., Feb. 6, 2014 -- Forty-one year-old Michelle Melvin was celebrating Mother's Day with her family when pain shot through her jaw and up into her temples. Then her arms went numb.

At first, Michelle ignored the sensation and proceeded to fill her children's plates with food. It wasn't until the pain and numbness returned multiple times that she told her husband something was wrong. Her family chimed in with the usual suggestions: Maybe you're hungry? Maybe you should lie down? Drink some water?

Michelle called Kaiser Permanente's 24-hour advice hotline for guidance. After explaining the odd sensation in her jaw and arms, the nurse on duty advised her to go to the hospital immediately: Michelle was describing the symptoms of a heart attack.

Knowing the symptoms of a heart attack saves lives, and according to Kaiser Permanente cardiologist Julie Sutherland, MD, women often experience different symptoms than men. "They might experience shortness of breath; they might experience decrease in their exercise tolerance; they might experience neck or jaw pain," explained Dr. Sutherland. "It might not be the sort of crushing chest pain where people grab their chest like you see on TV."

Michelle's husband rushed her to their local Kaiser Permanente hospital, where doctors monitored Michelle closely. When her tests came back, they proved the nurse right -- Michelle had experienced a heart attack.

It is easy for many women who are busy with family and work responsibilities to ignore the first signs of a heart attack. Because Michelle followed her intuition and sought treatment right away, she fared well. Now fully recovered, she keeps her heart healthy by staying active and eating a heart healthy diet that is low in cholesterol, saturated fat and salt.

Seeking help at the first signs of a heart attack can prevent death and shorten recovery time.

Symptoms of Heart Attack for Women

--  Jaw pain
--  Shoulder pain
--  Left arm pain
--  Shortness of breath
--  Sweating
--  Chest pain
--  Burning or numbness in back and shoulders
Symptoms of Heart Attack for Men

--  Pressure, tightness, squeezing, crushing sensation, or intense burning
feeling in the chest that lasts more than five minutes
--  Dizziness
--  Shortness of breath
--  Sweating
--  Irregular heartbeat
To learn more about heart health, please visit

Launched in July 2011, Care Stories is a collection of first-person video narratives from Kaiser Permanente members talking about their own care in their own words, unscripted and uncompensated.

About Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America's leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve 9.1 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to:
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