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His and Hers: the symptoms of heart disease
03/29/2006
She thought it was stress. She thought it was the aches and pains that come with age. She had no idea why her jaw wouldn’t stop throbbing, but she never suspected she was having a heart attack. For years we’ve heard that a heart attack feels like a crushing, vice-like grip on the chest, shooting pains in the left arm, dizziness and shortness of breath, and it often does. For men.

But for 62-year-old Josie Mims of Columbia, it was nothing of the sort. A waitress for more than 45 years, Mims suffered through a couple months of on-again, off-again pain in her jaw. What started as a pain brought on by talking, methodically turned into aches so severe Mims would wake up unable to breathe and covered in cold sweat. Waiting until a routine appointment with her internist, Mims mentioned the jaw pain almost as an afterthought to her physician. Fortunately, the physician recognized the possible symptoms of heart disease and scheduled her for a stress test the next morning.

But Mims never made it to the stress test. While entering the front lobby of Palmetto Health Richland, the jaw pain became so severe that she passed out. Four days later, she awakened in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit, learning she’d had triple bypass surgery.

It’s no longer a men-only club
Although coronary heart disease used to be considered a men’s health issue, women are perhaps at greater risk, especially as they age. “Most women aren’t worried about heart disease as much as they are about other health issues,” says Palmetto Health Richland Heart Hospital cardiologist Dr. Joe Hollins. “Yet, nearly 500,000 women die each year from cardiovascular disease. It may be hard to believe, but more than 8 million American women currently are living with heart disease.”

The most common heart attack symptom in both women and men is chest pain. However, women are more likely to experience nausea, shortness of breath and pain in the jaw, neck or back. Seek medical care immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.

Mims never dreamed she might have heart disease. As a slender woman who always worked and enjoyed do-it-yourself home-improvement projects and yard work, she didn’t think it was possible.

She later learned that her smoking and a family history of heart disease probably played a role in her own health problems. Fortunately, she is again spending her days playing with her grandchildren and working in her yard, and her evenings as a waitress on the 4 p.m. to midnight shift. Because she listened to her doctors, she has made a complete recovery.