Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet, many women would not recognize the signs of a heart attack if it happened to them.
While men usually experience classic symptoms — chest pain and shortness of breath — women often have more subtle signs, like indigestion, nausea or fatigue.
When Sally Juengel, a retired nurse, became ill in December 2009, she never guessed she was having a heart attack.
“I remember getting out of bed and feeling funny,” says Juengel, who retired from a St. Louis hospital five years ago and moved to Linn Creek to be near her sister. “My husband, Jim, found me on the bedroom floor. I didn’t remember what had happened, but my heart was beating fast and I was perspiring heavily.”
She returned to bed that night, but wisely decided to skip a hair appointment the next morning to go to Lake Regional Emergency Department. Juengel was treated by Cardiologist Muthu Krishnan, M.D., FACC, who performed a cardiac catheterization.
“I was surprised to learn I had a heart attack,” said Juengel, who has no history of heart disease in her family. “I have low blood pressure, I have never been overweight and I have always had good eating habits. I didn’t recognize the warning signs because there was no pain in my left arm — not anything you expect to experience.”
Juengel spent the next four days at Lake Regional Hospital. During that time, staff visited her to explain the Cardiac Rehab program prescribed by Dr. Krishnan and lifestyle changes recommended for individuals who have suffered a heart attack.
“Having a heart attack is a life-changing event,” Juengel said. “My biggest fear was having another heart attack, but the staff really put me at ease. And after my first visit to Cardiac Rehab in January 2010, I walked away thinking, ‘this is going to be OK.’”
Lake Regional’s Cardiac Rehab is a three-phase program that begins with education while patients are hospitalized. After discharge, patients enter Phase II, a monitored exercise program that also includes nutrition counseling and classroom instruction on the heart's anatomy, cardiac risk factors, medications, blood pressure, sodium intake and reading food labels.
“The way they take care of you is amazing,” Juengel said. “They monitor your heart rate continually and constantly check to make sure you are doing the exercises correctly. The staff is very professional, yet they make you feel at ease. I’m not afraid to ask questions or make a mistake. I feel safe because they are always right there to help.”
Page 2 of 2 - Since completing Phase II Cardiac Rehab, Juengel has continued to exercise in the Phase III program three days a week. In addition to the health benefits, she enjoys interacting with other patients and staff.
“It’s like family,” said Juengel, who also volunteers at Lake Regional on Monday mornings. “You get to know the other patients. The camaraderie helps so much.”
Now three years after her heart attack, Juengel encourages other women in her life to exercise and stay informed about heart attack risk factors.
“Women should know they might experience different symptoms than men,” Juengel said. “If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have waited. If you think you’re having a heart attack, go straight to the Emergency Department.”