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Older gentlemen holding his chest in discomfort during an outdoor walk.

Would You Recognize the Symptoms of a Heart Attack?

February 12, 2024 Posted in: Blogs

 

Each year in the United States, more than 800,000 people have a heart attack. When a heart attack occurs, fast intervention is needed to limit damage to the heart. Would you know what to do if you experienced heart attack symptoms?

A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, occurs when a blockage in a blood vessel cuts off blood flow to the heart. The longer the heart is deprived of oxygen, the more damage results. 

That’s why it’s so important to know the signs of a heart attack and how to react if you or someone you know experiences them. Take a few minutes to review these heart attack symptoms.

Heart Attack Symptoms: More Than Just Chest Pain

When you think about heart attacks, chest pain is probably the first thing to come to mind. That’s possibly due to how heart attacks are depicted on TV, where a character experiences sudden, intense chest pain.

While chest discomfort is a symptom of heart attack, it isn’t the only one. Some people may not experience chest pain the way it’s often depicted—where it’s obvious the person is having a heart attack. In real life, some people having a heart attack may not experience chest pain at all.

Those who do experience chest pain during a heart attack may feel it in a variety of ways. Chest discomfort related to a heart attack is typically felt in the center or left of the chest. The sensation may last for only a few minutes, or it may come and go repeatedly.

The discomfort can be felt as pain, but it may also feel like pressure, fullness or even squeezing. Other symptoms—especially in women—may not be those you’d typically associate with a heart problem.

Aside from chest pain, symptoms of a heart attack may include:

  • Cold sweats

  • Dizziness

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Lightheadedness

  • Nausea

  • Pain in the jaw, neck, shoulders, arms or abdomen

  • Shortness of breath

 

While these are lesser-known symptoms of a heart attack, they’re actually pretty common. Women in particular may be more likely to experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, neck or jaw pain, or nausea and vomiting in addition to chest pain.

What to Do If You Have Heart Attack Symptoms

If you experience any of the symptoms outlined above, even without chest pain, seek emergency medical attention. It’s best to call 911 and be transported to the hospital rather than being driven there because emergency medical care can begin immediately in the ambulance.

Prompt medical treatment is essential for the best outcomes after a heart attack. The faster treatment begins, the less damage the heart sustains. Once a heart attack is confirmed, physicians can take action to restore blood flow to the heart with angioplasty and stenting or through a procedure known as coronary artery bypass. 

Many people recover after a heart attack and live long, full lives, but it all starts with quick intervention.

How to Lower Your Risk of a Heart Attack

Looking to prevent a heart attack in the first place? Your best defense is a healthy lifestyle. While some risk factors for a heart attack, such as your age and family medical history, are beyond your control, most other factors are ones you can do something about. 

Practice healthy lifestyle habits to put your best foot forward, heart health-wise. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise (like brisk walking or jogging) most days of the week. Eat a diet largely based on fruits and vegetables, supplemented with lean protein and whole grains. Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as meditation, a hobby or time spent with friends.

You can also prioritize your heart health by having regular checkups with your primary care physician or advanced care practitioner. These visits provide an opportunity to talk through your risk factors and have tests done to track your heart health, including a blood pressure check and lab work.

Take steps to lower your risk of a heart attack—and know what to do if one occurs. That’s a powerful combination for protecting your heart!

Find a cardiologist at St. Luke’s Health.

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