Women at higher risk for heart attack misdiagnosis

Deborah Jervis says her symptoms began at church.

“It was like somebody took a rock or something and just punched me in the middle of my chest,” she recalled.

She chalked it up to acid reflux and went home. Then the pain came back. It was so bad, she couldn’t call for help.

“It paralyzed me, took my breath away. I think I went in and out a couple of times. I managed to get the phone in my hands but I couldn't dial 911,” she said.

At 52, Jervis had a heart attack, but it wasn't diagnosed until a day after she got to the hospital. That's because her heart had no blockages and her EKG was normal.

It may sound puzzling but cardiologist Dr. Charles Lambert said, regardless of the test results, chest pains are a warning sign.

“Women with normal coronaries who come to their cardiologist, they have chest pains or similar symptoms and they are told that they are all normal, are not normal,” said Lambert.  

Lambert is the medical director of the Pepin Heart Institute at AdventHealth Tampa. He says the heart tests may be normal because women are more likely than men to have spasms in their heart arteries, creating temporary blockages that may reverse before studies, like heart catheterizations, are done.

So unlike Jervis, many women don't get diagnosed at all. That puts them at risk of something worse.

“They have a hugely increased risk of having a cardiac event, such as heart attacks, death, stroke, and other major adverse cardiac events,” he explained.

To try and reduce the risk, AdventHealth Tampa is participating in a clinical trial called WARRIOR, or Women's IschemiA TRial to Reduce Events In Non-ObstRuctive CAD.

Researchers across Florida hope to identify more women like Jervis to figure out the best way to treat them.

“Part of this study is to see if these therapies work in these women. Which we all think that they will,” he says.

Jervis joined the clinical trial and is getting help.

“And if being a part of this study can save a life, not just my life, but somebody else, I’m cool with that,” she said.

She's also eating healthier, exercising, and is taking medication. It's giving her a new perspective on life.

“I am so fortunate. It changed not only my life but it changed my family's life because sometimes you could take for granted what you have,” she explained.  

Jervis hopes by speaking out, other women will resist the temptation to get checked and be proactive.

“It's going to sound weird but I’m glad what happened to me happened to me because it woke me up,” she said.

Now she hopes her experience will awaken other women, too.  

The WARRIOR clinical trial is open to women 40 years old and older who have had symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath, but no artery blockages.

Multiple sites across Florida are now recruiting  Visit https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03417388 for more information.

If you’d like to join the trial at AdventHealth Tampa, call (813) 610-8110 to find out if you qualify.