Dangerous words for a heart attack: I’m fine

Jessica Armstrong/Kate Luecke Photography

Feb. 7, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by Avera.

It was a Wednesday morning, and Jessica Armstrong, business development manager at Eide Bailly LLP, was bustling around her home getting ready for work.

At one point, she went back into her bedroom and saw the duvet on the bed was crooked. When she bent over to straighten the blanket, pressure filled her chest and upper back.

Armstrong mentioned the discomfort to her husband, describing the pain as an elephant sitting on her chest. He gently recommended going to the hospital. Not wanting to be a bother, she waived away his concerns with those risky words: “I’m fine.”

A half-hour after he left for work, Armstrong went into the bathroom for one final look into the mirror. Her mind went to her children and grandchildren; she decided to go to the emergency room just to be safe.

“I had a mild heart attack,” she discovered.

After the warning signs, the emergency team admitted her for the night. The next morning, just before she was to have a stress test, her chest pain returned.

An angiogram at Avera Heart Hospital revealed a blockage in her right coronary artery. During an angiogram, a contrast agent — iodine dye — is introduced into the patient’s system, which allows the physician to observe any abnormalities captured on the X-ray. Doctors immediately placed a stent inside the artery to relieve the blockage and promote blood flow.

“They were so fabulous and caring, the team who treated me,” Armstrong said. “Every day, they see worried people, and they handle each person with grace.”

While Armstrong never showed signs of heart problems, the risk runs in her family. Her mother worked at managing high blood pressure and thyroid disease all her life. Armstrong’s mother passed away at an early age.

Today, Armstrong prioritizes her health during a busy day by eating healthier and walking her eager yellow Labradors. The thought that a health emergency could happen is always in the back of her mind.

“It was a lesson to care for and listen to my body,” Armstrong said. “I have a lot of life left to live, and I’m also taking time to enjoy every moment now.”  

Do you know the warning signs of a heart attack?

You don’t have to have all the symptoms for it to be a heart attack. Armstrong experienced only pain in her chest and upper back; she thought she would have had more symptoms.

Common symptoms:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Jaw or back pain
  • Arm or shoulder pain
  • Sweatiness
  • Nausea
  • Feeling weak, light-headed or faint
  • Shortness of breath

Early detection is critical for treating and surviving a heart attack. Call 911 immediately if you or a loved one experiences symptoms.

“If something doesn’t feel right, get it checked out,” Armstrong said. “God gave us these gut feelings for a reason: for your protection.”

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Dangerous words for a heart attack: I’m fine

You’ve probably waived off feeling not quite right with the same words: “I’m fine.” She almost did too. Instead, she’s a living reminder that heart attacks don’t always come with classic warning signs.

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