The Varying Signs of a Heart Attack

There are varying signs that you are having a heart attack, so don’t deny symptoms or delay getting help

It is becoming more well known that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. But did you know that nearly one million Americans suffer a heart attack each year? Some respond immediately to symptoms and seek help. Others ignore the signs or simply do not recognize them.

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Everyone who survives a heart attack has a different story to tell. Recognizing the symptoms and responding immediately are key to life and better outcomes. A person suffering from a heart attack will do best when they get to the hospital within an hour of the onset of symptoms. The longer you wait, the more heart tissue will die and the more difficult the recovery.

So, why don’t people respond immediately? Many deny symptoms altogether, while others fear they will look silly if they are not having a serious heart issue.

“We have patients that have symptoms on vacation who don’t want to ruin it so they will search the Internet for answers or call us,” says Betsy Stovsky, MSN, RN, Manager of the Heart & Vascular Institute Resource & Information Center. “We have to say, get off the Internet and get to the Emergency Department! It is always better to be safe than sorry.”

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She adds: “In talking with people, we find that even those who are having unusual symptoms sense that something is just not right. Listen to your body and act—that is what we say.”

The Varying Symptoms

  • In addition to pressure or discomfort in the center of the chest, symptoms may include discomfort in other areas of the upper body – the arms, back, jaw, neck or stomach; difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; sweating or “cold” sweat; fullness, indigestion or choking feeling; nausea or vomiting; fatigue, light-headedness; extreme weakness; anxiety; rapid or irregular heartbeats. Learn about three chest pains that won’t kill you
  • When people are having a heart attack, they cannot find relief from any position or medication. It is continuous and unrelenting.
  • For women, the signs may be different. A smaller percentage than men report chest discomfort, which may feel more like a sharp pain (tight or tingling) than heavy pain. And for women, the most frequently reported symptoms are unusual fatigue, sleep disturbances, shortness of breath, indigestion and anxiety. Learn more about the gender differences in heart and cardiovascular disease
  • The majority of women reported at least one symptom for more than a month before their heart attack. Many women think that because they are woman – or younger – that they can ignore the symptoms. This is not true!

If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms and “know something is wrong,” you need to get to the nearest emergency department. Don’t call a friend—call 9-1-1, and unless contraindicated, chew on a baby aspirin until EMS arrives.

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When in doubt, err on the side of caution and get yourself to the Emergency Department.

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