My friend realized that she needed to know more about the signs of a heart attack and symptoms. So I thought I would gather several important aspects of a heart attack here for the reader’s knowledge. Besides knowing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack it is vital to have an action plan, as well as, thinking about how you can modify your lifestyles to prevent a heart attack. Its important to note that diseases do not read textbooks --- meaning that medical presentations do not always follow what it says in a book or online.
If you are having any one of the symptoms described below that lasts for more than 5 minutes, SEEK EMERGENCY TREATMENT (CALL 911) WITHOUT DELAY. These symptoms could be the signs of a heart attack (also called myocardial infarction or MI) and immediate treatment is vital.
Your Action Plan
- Have a discussion with your doctor about any risks you may have for a heart attack and what you can do to reduce your risk factors. Be sure to ask about aspirin.
- Gain knowledge about the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. Read more below.
- Learn what to do if you have symptoms: Call 911 after five minutes - do not call a friend or family member for help.
- Talk with your family members, friends and coworkers about the heart attack warning signs and the importance of acting quickly.
Common Symptoms of a Heart Attack Include:
- Chest pain otherwise known medically as Angina. Typically its pain or sensation centrally in the chest that is often described as a heaviness, tightness, pressure, achy, numbness, burning, fullness or squeezing ---like and elephant sitting on your chest as one patient of mine described the sensation. It can be constant or it can come and go and last for more than just a few minutes. It can be mistaken for heartburn or indigestion.
- Pain or discomfort can radiate or involve other areas of the upper body including the arms, left shoulder region, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
- Rapid heart beats or irregular skipped beats.
- Sweating (medically diaphoresis) – like breaking out in a cold sweat.
- Throat or neck fullness – like a choking feeling.
- Stomach fullness, like indigestion or heartburn.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weakness, lightheadedness, dizziness or anxiety.
Women May Sometime Differ from Men with Heart Attack Symptoms.
We all like have seen the movie version of having a man having a heart attack -- lots of gasping, clutching his chest and falls to the ground. For a women the reality is it may not be as dramatic and there may be other softer signs women may be more dominant and more silent and difficult to recognize that women should most definitely be aware of.
Women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure. In a multi-center study of 515 women who had an acute myocardial infarction (MI), the most frequently reported symptoms were unusual fatigue; sleep disturbances, shortness of breath, indigestion and anxiety. The majority of women (78%) reported at least one symptom for more than one month before their heart attack.
Although most women and men report symptoms of chest pain with a heart attack, women are slightly more likely than men to report unusual symptoms. Those who have more vague or less typical “heart” symptoms have reported the following:
- Jaw pain or pain spreading to the jaw
- Upper back or shoulder pain
- Light headedness
- Pain that spreads to the arm
- Unusual fatigue for several days
Trust Your Instincts
If you aren’t feeling normal or are experiencing any of the symptoms above, contact 911. It is better to take care of yourself and prevent damage to your heart, in the event you are having a heart attack.
The Silent MI
Some people have a heart attack without having any symptoms at all (a “silent” myocardial infarction). A silent MI can occur among all patients, though it is more common among people with diabetes. A silent MI may be diagnosed during a routine doctor’s exam.
Do Not Wait to Get Help
At the first signs of a heart attack, call for emergency treatment (911). Do not wait for your symptoms to “go away.” Early recognition and treatment of heart attack symptoms can reduce the risk of heart damage. There is a limited amount of time before significant and long-lasting damage occurs to the heart muscle. The best time to treat a heart attack is within one hour of the onset of the first symptoms. If a large area of the heart is injured during the heart attack, full recovery becomes much more difficult.
Even if you’re not sure your symptoms are those of a heart attack, you should still be evaluated. Your options may be limited if you wait even a couple hours and time may increase the amount of damage done and reduce your chance of survival.
911 - Contact Emergency Help
Calling 911 is almost always the fastest way to get life-saving treatment. Follow any instruction they may give you while en-route. When emergency help arrives, treatment for a heart attack begins promptly. By contacting emergency help (911) you are likelier to get treated faster at the hospital. If you are having symptoms, do not drive yourself unless there is absolutely no other option.
Heart Disease is Preventable -Modifying Your Risk Factors
- Meet your primary care provider to discuss your personal risk for heart disease. You can also check the American Heart Association risk calculator to learn more about your risks: Heart Attack Risk Calculator.
- If you smoke...STOP. By stopping smoking you reduce your risk of having a heart attack by 50%! Talk with your primary care provider about smoking cessation and the options. Colorado has its own Quit line. Resistration is free! Check it out or forward the information to a friend or loved one who may benefit: Colorado Quit-line Registration
- Walk! Hippocrates (c. 460 – c. 370 BC), often referred to as the "Father of Western Medicine” in his wisdom, and sage-like advice is quoted as saying “walking is the best medicine,.” This remains a timeless non-pharmacological prescription for well-being and longevity. We know as little as 30 min walk daily can help reduce your risks of heart disease and stroke,.
- Make Dietary Lifestyle Changes if needed. Some of the top-rated lifestyle food plans are relatively easy to follow, nutritious, safe, effective for weight loss and protective against diabetes and heart disease. U.S. News and World report does a good job of giving a summery of the top heart health “diets” out there. My Favorites include the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), Therapeutic Lifestyle Change (TLC) diet, and the Mediterranean Diet. Talk with your doctor about which diet may be right for you and to get more detailed information about the diet you choose.
This information is provided by Dr. John E. Thomas with On Point Primary Care clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your primary care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. Feel free to contact Dr. Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or would like further information about his practice or to schedule your free consultation to see if On Point Primary Care is right for you and your family.