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Published on February 01, 2017

A Wake-Up Call from the Heart

Jessica Stewart and familyMarathon runner, assistant school superintendent, and mother of 10-year-old triplets, Jessica Stewart, 39, woke up last August with unusual shoulder pain she attributed to a new workout routine.

Shrugging off her discomfort, Jessica spent the day in a training session in an un-airconditioned school library.

“I thought I was fatigued and struggling to focus because I was too hot,” she says. “But my colleagues commented that I didn’t look great.”

After work, Jessica joined her husband Chad to coach their sons’ soccer practice before heading home. As she sat on the couch, knowing she wasn’t feeling like herself, she researched heart attack warning signs in women. “I had every symptom listed,” Jessica says. “I told my husband we needed to go to the emergency room.”

Heart Attack Warning Signs for Women

The "typical" warning signs of a heart attack are more commonly reported by men than by women. Instead of a crushing sensation in the chest, a woman having a heart attack may experience:

• Dizziness or lightheadedness
• Extreme fatigue
• Nausea
• Pain in the arms, jaw, neck, or shoulder
• Shortness of breath
• Sweating
• Vomiting

“If a woman notices any of these warning signs, she should seek medical attention immediately,” says Interventional Cardiologist Christopher J. Berry, MD, with Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group. “The sooner we restore blood flow, the more likely it is that we will restore the maximum amount of function.”

Rapid Response

The emergency response team at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital mobilized quickly, first to confirm Jessica’s heart attack with an electrocardiogram and then to perform an angiogram to address the condition.

“My whole world shifted, and I thought, ‘Holy smokes—this is real,” Jessica says. “But the hospital ER team could not have been more responsive or supportive. They worked together to take control, and I felt a sense of calm.”

Today, Jessica is back on the job, working out regularly, and taking care of her family.

“If you suspect that something is wrong, don’t be afraid to take action,” she says. “Listen to your body and seek support if you don’t feel quite right. It could save your life.”

Tuning in to Your Heart Health

Taking proper precautions can help protect you from heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking increase the likelihood of developing heart disease, and roughly half of all Americans have one of these risk factors. Additional risk is associated with unmanaged diabetes, excessive consumption of alcohol, lack of exercise, and obesity. Take these steps to reduce your chances of developing heart disease. Fuel up with the right foods. Choose a low-cholesterol, low sodium meal plan filled with colorful fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

Get moving. Aim for at least 150 minutes of brisk exercise each week. Walking, swimming, and jogging are great options. Stay in touch with your healthcare team. Together you can identify critical information that may increase the likelihood of heart disease, such as family history and high cholesterol.

Northwestern Medicine Regional Medial Group Cardiologists Christopher J. Berry, MD, and Jacob Stephen, MD, see patients in DeKalb and can perform procedures at Kishwaukee Hospital’s Cardiac and Vascular Interventional Suites. To make an appointment with Dr. Berry or Dr. Stephen, please call 815.748.5844.

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