Actress Susan Lucci remembers feeling a tightness in her chest but she thought maybe she was just tired. Another time she felt pain radiating around her rib cage and overlooked it. But the third time, while shopping, she felt like an elephant was pressing down on her chest. Then she knew it was time to go to the hospital. Her cardiologist Holly Andersen said: “Had she gone home, that 90 percent blockage could have become 100 percent and she could have suffered a significant heart attack or even sudden death.”
Using a type of imaging called optical coherence tomography, her doctor, Richard Schlofmitz found an 86.1 percent blockage in the left anterior descending artery. That’s the passageway so vital that a full blockage is the type of heart attack dubbed the “widowmaker.” He also found a second large blockage.
The doctor’s tools determined the blockages were made of calcium, as opposed to cholesterol or scar tissue. The machine also provided the percentage of the blockages, their locations, lengths, and everything else he needed to know. Warning signs can be different for men and women. The most common warning signs are pain or discomfort in the chest; lightheadedness; nausea or vomiting; pain radiating in the jaw or neck; discomfort or pain in the arm or shoulder; and shortness of breath.
Susan Lucci had to undergo surgery, during which her doctor inserted two stents into her arteries to help increase blood flow back to her heart. Once she came home from surgery, Susan felt like she needed to get back to her schedule. She didn’t want to let anyone down and she kept going. But she soon realized that she needed to take time to rest and her schedule could wait.
Now Susan is sharing her experience with the American Heart Organization so that others can learn. Always see a doctor when you experience pain and take care of good care of yourself after surgery.
Sometimes people wonder whether they’re having a heart problem. Maybe it’s indigestion or a pulled muscle. Once the pain subsides, they think it’s resolved. Dr. Richard Shlofmitz recommends putting the symptoms to a three-prong test:
- Did they flare during exertion (which can be as minimal as shopping)?
- Did they go away at rest?
- Have they occurred more than once?
If the answer to all three is yes, call 911.
For more information visit the American Heart Association at Heart.org