Women, know the signs of a heart attack: It may feel like the flu

From a close call to a calling, how a heart attack led to being an AHA spokesperson

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You probably didn’t know this. In fact, most don’t. Heart disease is the leading killer of women and takes the life of one woman every 80 seconds.

For many women, it’s not obvious they’re having a heart attack. Many times, women experience subtle symptoms, not unlike the flu: nausea, tiredness, and fatigue. While men often experience the well-known debilitating chest pain, the wide range of symptoms in women are less dramatic, often leading to misdiagnosis.

Stephanie Brown, a Greenville resident, knows this first hand. She was in a life-threatening situation for an entire week during July 2015 without realizing it. Her “flu-like” symptoms mixed with extreme breathing episodes were actually heart attacks (up to twelve times a day, sometimes).

These symptoms persisted for a week until her father insisted she visit his cardiologist, Dr. James A. Merriam at Bon Secours St. Francis Health System, which has been listed in “America’s 100 Best Cardiac Care,” according to Healthgrades. There, she was diagnosed as having a heart blockage. The “breathing episodes” were in fact heart attacks.

Stephanie Brown, spokesperson for the American Heart Association

“Their comment was all the signs were there, all you had to do was look a little bit,” Brown said. “They took all the signs that were there and they put them all together.”

St. Francis currently treats heart attacks within an average of 32 minutes from the time the patient arrives at the hospital. The national standard is 90 minutes.

“It wasn’t like I was just a number. I was a person. It felt right to be there,” she said. “They cared about the fact that I was going through this and they took the time with me. It made all the difference in the world to me.”

Stephanie had a catheterization during her hospitalization and ultimately a cardiac stent was placed by Dr. Chris Smith of Bon Secours St. Francis Health System. After she completed a month of cardiac rehabilitation, she was asked if she would be open to talking about her experience.  Now, she is a spokesperson for women’s heart health for the American Heart Association in the Upstate.

“If I can just help one woman recognize what these symptoms are and save one life, this would all be well worth it,” she said.

More than six months later, she hasn’t had any complications or issues with her heart. Now, she works to spread how women can prevent heart attacks, including knowing what your blood pressure and body mass index is. “If you know what those numbers are every year, that’s a good start. Keep good eating habits and a healthy lifestyle.”

This article is in partnership Bon Secours St. Francis Health System

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