Helen's story: What all women should know about heart attacks

Helen Brady, 59, thought she had indigestion. But, the discomfort under her ribs was actually a sign of a heart attack.

“I’m the last person that my friends and family ever thought would have a heart attack,” said Brady, who suffered one July 17, 2016 in her home. ”I really was not symptomatic at all. I worked out all the time. I was in the gym four-to-five days a week and very active when I wasn’t in the gym.”

Women can have very different symptoms than men when it comes to heart attacks. Most women will experience pain or discomfort in their chest. But, some may have no symptoms at all, says Dr. S. Jacob Scheinerman, chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital.

“They may get indigestion. They may get some nausea. They may get what they feel like is heaviness in their throat,” Dr. Scheinerman said. “And sometimes they don’t even get those typical symptoms. That’s why it’s important to control all risk factors.”

You could be at risk for heart disease if you:

  • Are overweight
  • Smoke
  • Have Blood pressure 140/90 mm Hg or higher
  • Have total cholesterol levels of 200 mg/dL or higher, low levels of "good" cholesterol (HDL), or high levels of "bad" cholesterol (LDL)
  • Are a man older than 45 years
  • Are a woman beyond menopause
  • Do not get much exercise or lead a sedentary lifestyle
  • Have a family history of heart disease
  • Have diabetes

Other symptoms that a woman might experience include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Pain or discomfort in the center of the back or in the jaw

Brady’s daughter, a nurse, performed CPR before her mother was taken by ambulance to the hospital. She was eventually transferred to Lenox Hill Hospital, where she was treated for her heart attack. Days later Scheinerman performed a coronary artery bypass.

In 2016, there were zero deaths from the following open-heart surgeries at Lenox Hill Hospital:

  • Coronary artery bypass
  • Aortic valve replacement or repair
  • Transcatheter aortic valve replacement
  • Combined valve and coronary artery bypass surgery.

“I don’t think we’ll ever have the answer as to why she had a heart attack, or why she had coronary artery disease,” he said. “But, there’s no question in my mind that she recovered as well as she did because she was in such good shape.”

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States. But, 80 percent of heart disease is preventable.  

Learn more about your heart by taking our free online health risk assessment.

The Lenox Hill Heart and Vascular Institute, part of Lenox Hill Hospital and Northwell Health, has a rich history as one of the nation’s leaders in heart, lung and vascular care. Our doctors were the first to develop and perform many groundbreaking procedures, and have experience caring for patients with conditions that range from the simple to the highly complex.

Focus onHealth TV

Watch Focus onHealth, Northwell Health's TV show. It's the healthy way to stay informed!