I Had a Heart Attack at 34. Here’s the First Symptom I Experienced

Gigi Campos, 35, had a heart attack in February 2023. Though she had risk factors, doctors had always told her that she was young and healthy. As she recovered, Campos joined WomenHeart, a national patient-centered organization focused on women with heart disease, to share her experience with cardiac arrest and help educate others about it. Here’s her story, as told to health writer Julia Ries.

February 7, 2024 is my one-year “heart-iversary,” or as some people call it, my “did not die date.” My story begins on one of my regular morning walks with my husband in Miami, Florida. Around 6:30 a.m., in the middle of our two-mile stroll, I felt some chest pressure. I thought, “Maybe I slept weird, or I’m anxious or a little stressed out.” After all, I had a high-pressure operations job at a nearby hospital—I knew stress well.

I stretched out my body, but the pressure persisted. We went home, and I showered, got dressed, and drove to work. At a mid-morning meeting, I still felt off. It was like someone put a weight on my chest, or was pressing their hand above my breastbone. I thought, “Something’s not right.” After the meeting, I drove to an urgent care clinic. I trembled as I filled out the impossibly long admission paperwork, scribbling “chest pain” as my reason for being there. Because I worked in hospitals, I knew that doctors examine your heart if you use this phrase. Still, I didn’t think anything was seriously wrong. 

I shared my risk factors with the health care providers: I had recently started taking low-dose statins because my cholesterol levels were high, but this was more so to be proactive about my future health. I had a family history of heart disease, but most of my relatives who dealt with heart problems were much older men. As a child, I’d been diagnosed with atherosclerosis, a common condition that causes plaque to build up in your arteries, but I’d long been told by doctors that I was fine because I was young, physically active, and healthy.

I had an electrocardiogram (ECG), a test that records electrical signals from the heart to quickly detect heart conditions. Around this time, I developed a strange, radiating pain along the right side of my neck. The urgent care workers said I was probably anxious. When the results came back, the providers said something didn’t look right and wanted to repeat the test. They ran a second ECG and told me that my results weren’t entirely normal, but they could be normal for me. They suggested I get a full cardiac evaluation, gave me an aspirin, and called an ambulance.

My husband met up with me at the urgent care as the ambulance arrived. The paramedics told my husband I was 100% having a panic attack, and that urgent care clinicians send everyone to the hospital out of caution. My husband thought this was totally plausible, since I’d been so stressed out about work. To be honest? I did, too, although something inside me knew the persistent chest pressure was different from the anxiety I’d felt in the past.

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