Unusual Symptoms Lead to Heart Attack Diagnosis

Gloria Schulte, UnityPoint at Home employee, prided herself on leading a healthy lifestyle. Free of the health risks from smoking, high cholesterol and obesity, Schulte never considered herself at risk for heart disease. Despite being a rare candidate for a heart attack diagnosis, Schulte was caught off guard when she experienced one in September 2014.

Schulte first started noticing symptoms while traveling to visit her son in Kansas City.

“The heart attack came as quite a surprise,” Schulte says. “I didn't have the risk factors you hear about, so I completely ignored the initial warning signs that occurred when I was traveling with my husband.”

Justifying the discomfort in her neck and shoulders and attributing her physical pain to indigestion and fatigue, Schulte dismissed the possibility of a heart attack.

“My arms felt heavy from time to time, but I blamed that on physical activity. My chest felt a bit tight, but I assumed it was more indigestion. A heart issue was not on my list of concerns,” Schulte says.

Before heading back home, Schulte decided to check into the emergency room to make sure her discomfort was only a minor issue. That’s when she discovered she’d suffered a heart attack.

“I remember hearing the doctor say, ‘She is positive for a myocardial infarction,’ and still, I assumed they were talking about someone else. I fully expected a muscle relaxer for my neck discomfort and antacid for my indigestion. Instead, I got two stents,” Schulte says.

Following her surgery, Schulte learned women often experience different symptoms than men with a heart attack.

“My husband previously had a heart attack, and I assumed everyone experienced the same symptoms. I have since learned how women’s heart issues can be more difficult to detect,” Schulte says.

Like Schulte’s experience, the Women’s Heart Foundation explains how women typically wait longer than men to go to an emergency room when having a heart attack, in part because the “characteristic” chest pain isn’t always present.

“Don’t assume a lack of severe chest pain means you aren’t having heart issues. It’s better to be embarrassed and told you are okay than to wait too long to receive care,” Schulte says.

Since her heart attack, Schulte has worked with a dietitian and a cardiac rehabilitation program. She encourages others to learn their heart risk factors, regardless of age, family history and lifestyle.

“I learned stress is a risk factor, and I’m working to achieve a better work-life balance. Had I not been healthy to start with, the results could have been completely different. No one has zero risk for heart attack. But, we can certainly reduce our risk.”