Heart Attack Warning Signs

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Each year, approximately 1.2 million Americans suffer a heart attack and nearly one-third of these individuals die, many before they reach the hospital.

A heart attack typically occurs when a vessel supplying the heart muscle with blood and oxygen becomes completely blocked. If blood flow isn’t restored quickly, that part of the muscle will begin to die.

It’s important to recognize the warning signs of a heart attack and to get help as soon as possible. Remember that “time is muscle,” the longer you wait the higher the risk of permanent damage to your heart muscle.

Heart Attack Signs and Symptoms

In the movies, heart attack victims often clutch their chest in pain and keel over. But in reality, most heart attacks start slowly as mild pain or discomfort. People often dismiss heart attack warning signs as heartburn or a pulled muscle, causing them to wait too long before getting help.

Common heart attack symptoms for both men and women include:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back
  • Discomfort or pain in the upper body, one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat or sweating
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness

In addition to the common symptoms, women may also experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Tightness, squeezing or pressure in the chest, throat, upper abdomen or neck
  • Nausea and indigestion-like symptoms including heartburn or an upset stomach
  • Lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting or sweating that occurs with or without chest pain
  • A numbing or tingling sensation in the left arm
  • Back pain
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath that occurs with or without exertion
  • Waking during the night out of breath
  • Unexplained severe anxiety, fatigue and/or overall lack of energy

If you experience any of these symptoms or think you may be having a heart attack, call 911 immediately.

If you’re high risk for a heart attack, along with learning the heart attack warning signs you should:

  • Talk to your doctor about your risk and learn what you can do to reduce it
  • Decide what you would do at home, work or other places if you have heart attack symptoms
  • Figure out who would care for your kids or other dependents in an emergency
  • Talk with your family and friends about heart attack warning signs

Why Call 911

More than 50 percent of all patients experiencing chest pain walk into the Emergency Department (ED) rather than calling 911. The reasons for this are numerous, ranging from the instinct to jump into the car and drive to the nearest hospital to the misunderstanding that the emergency squad is just a transport vehicle. It’s important to remember, calling 911 starts treatment earlier.

  • 911 dispatchers are often trained to locate you quickly and assist you in early treatment options.
  • In Wake County and surrounding areas, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) can diagnosis a heart attack by using an electrocardiogram (ECG) and also initiate early treatment.
  • Arriving by ambulance to the ED helps to ensure that you will not wait to be seen by a physician. Many patients who experience chest pain drive themselves, only to find that they may wait in the ED lobby until they can see the doctor.
  • EMS can radio ahead to the ED that you are on your way. This enables the ED staff to be ready for you when you arrive through their doors.

Preventing A Heart Attack

The only thing more important than early recognition is prevention. A heart attack can occur at any age, but the risk increases for men older than 45 and women over 50. Other common risk factors for heart attacks include:

  • A previous heart attack
  • Family history of early heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • Physical inactivity
  • Rapid heartbeat, cold sweat breakouts and/or paleness

To decrease your risk of heart attack, both men and women should:

  • Eliminate tobacco use 
  • Regulate a healthy blood pressure level
  • Control cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels
  • Control your blood sugars if you have diabetes
  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean meats and fish
  • Maintain a healthy weight for your age and height
  • Get involved in regular physical activity that you enjoy

Call 911

If you or a loved one is experiencing signs of a heart attack or stroke, call 911 immediately.

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