Young Women & Heart Attacks: Hard to Diagnose

41 year old Darla Murcek is like many women her age--thought to be too young to have a heart attack.

She went to the doctor feeling terrible but without having typical heart attack symptoms like chest pain or discomfort--her doctor came up empty--even after an EKG.

"He basically told me that I had anxiety and I was depressed," Darla said.

Mentally—the diagnosis made her feel better.

"I was relieved that he said that because I figured he knew, Darla recalled. “I actually started crying because he asked me if I thought if I'd had a heart attack and I said yeah, he said never heard of a 41 year old woman having a heart attack."

In fact he was talking to one--and two weeks later Darla was rushed to the emergency room at Baylor-Irving where doctors performed two cardiac enzyme tests.

The first one showed nothing but doctors were still suspicious.

"The test was rechecked and it came back positive,” Cardiologist Armando Yepes said. “Meaning she did indeed have a small heart attack."

A heart attack caused by a 95% blockage in a small artery. The next day Dr. Yepes inserted a stent to re-open the artery.

Researchers found that women under 45 were 30% more likely than men to present without symptoms and 20% more likely to die.

"In the past we used to attribute a lot of the symptoms to anxiety, heartburn,” Dr. Yepes said. “In fact they were having major heart problems, there was a delay in treatment and therefore there was an increase in mortality."

Women like Darla often delay going to the doctor because there are no chest pains.

Dr. Yepes said the study raises awareness.

"What is important for physicians and females is to be aware of new symptoms because they may be an indication that something is wrong with your heart," Dr. Yepes said.

That's what Darla did and now she's thankful--from the bottom of her heart.

“You know,” Darla said. “Thank god that they kept looking and found out what it was."


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