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Heart and Vascular

Top 5 Symptoms of a Heart Attack

Mercy Health | Nov 15 2017
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If you or someone you love were having a heart attack, would you recognize the warning signs?

Someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds in the United States, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Would you be able to distinguish whether it was a medical emergency or a false alarm? Would you know what action to take if you suspect you’re having a heart attack? Knowing common symptoms of a heart attack can help prepare you for this situation.

Many people imagine a heart attack as a sudden, excruciating, intense episode, just like in the movies. Likewise, many think the top sign is radiating discomfort in the left arm. But most heart attacks aren’t that dramatic. They usually start slowly and subtly, with mild pain and discomfort.

Don’t dismiss your symptoms as nothing or rationalize them as stress. If your symptoms last for more than 5 minutes, call 911 or go to an emergency room as quickly as possible.

Recognize the 5 Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

The American Heart Association recommends calling 911 (or your local emergency response number) if you experience any of the following 5 symptoms of a heart attack:

  1. Pain or discomfort (uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, or fullness) in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that comes and goes.
  2. Discomfort or pain that spreads beyond your chest to the arm or shoulder or other areas of the upper body. This can occur in one or both arms.
  3. Pain or discomfort in the back, neck, teeth, jaw or stomach. Often, this feels like heartburn.
  4. Lightheadedness (feeling like you might pass out), generally accompanied by nausea, vomiting and breaking out in a cold, clammy sweat.
  5. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort. You may feel anxiety as if you’re having an unexplained panic attack and feel heart palpitations, like your heart is skipping a beat. Experiencing a sudden loss of responsiveness or abnormal breathing could indicate cardiac arrest.

Do not drive yourself to the hospital unless you have no other choice. Patients who arrive with chest pains in an ambulance usually receive faster treatment at the hospital. Also, remember to stay calm and take long. Take deep breaths while you wait for emergency responders.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack Can Vary Widely Between Men and Women

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. There are many similarities in the symptoms experienced by each gender. But there are also important differences that could save your life if you know them.

The most common heart attack symptom in women is chest pain or discomfort just as it is with men. However, women are more likely to experience other common symptoms, like sweating, pressure, shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting or flu-like symptoms, irregular pain in the lower or upper back or jaw pain. Even more, some women struggle to breathe up to a few weeks before their heart attack.

Know Your Risk and Trust Your Instincts

Knowing the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack is vastly important. Similarly, seeing your doctor on a regular basis and learning your family history of heart issues are a big help.

The people generally thought to be at highest risk for heart attacks are heavy smokers, people with high-stress lifestyles or those who are excessively overweight. But the truth is that anyone can suffer from a heart attack. Trust your intuition, and seek immediate care if you worry you’re at risk. If you need a doctor, visit mercy.com or call 513-952-5000 to find a primary care physician today.

Interested in learning more about heart care? Read on for how to prevent and control high blood pressure as well as how to lower your risk for heart disease, or sign up below to receive the latest news straight to your inbox.


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