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Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both male and female populations worldwide every year. (1)
The same stands true for the United States, where nearly 800,000 people suffer from heart attacks annually, which boils down to one heart attack every 40 seconds. (2)
A heart attack occurs when there is a lack of blood flow to the heart muscle, typically due to a blockage in the blood vessel, resulting in severe damage to the organ. (3)
Common Symptoms of Heart Attack
The most typical symptoms of a heart attack are as follows:
1. Chest pain/discomfort
The classic symptom of a heart attack, chest pain or discomfort is often characterized as pressure, tightness, or squeezing. (4) The pain starts gradually and usually lasts for more than a few minutes.
It is possible that the pain goes away or resolves and then returns.
2. Gastrointestinal symptoms
These include nausea, vomiting, heartburn, and indigestion, which can easily be mistaken as a sign of digestive distress. (5)
3. Throat or jaw pain
Sometimes, pain is sensed at a location other than the site of injury. This phenomenon is known as “referred pain.” In the case of a heart attack, some individuals may experience neck, throat, or jaw pain with or without chest pain. (6)
In some cases, the patient may even suffer some degree of numbness or tingling at the site of pain.
4. Pain spreading to arm
Pain radiating to the arm, most commonly the left arm, is another classic heart attack symptom. (7)
The sensation of dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting may be indicative of a heart attack. This is due to the heart’s inability to pump enough blood to preserve brain perfusion. (8)
Suddenly feeling exhausted or fatigued following activities that were previously normal may be indicative of an underlying heart disease, including a heart attack. (9)
7. Shortness of breath
This symptom may occur in the absence of chest discomfort. (10)
8. Sleeping problems
If you are unable to lie flat at night when going to bed, you may have a problem with the functioning of the heart. If it occurs suddenly, this may be due to a heart attack. (11)
Waking up in the middle of the night short of breath and gasping for air is also a possible sign of heart failure, which may be due to a heart attack.
9. Other common symptoms
These include anxiety, (12) a feeling or sensation of impending doom, sweating, and palpitations.
Heart attacks are generally characterized by the above-listed symptoms, with chest pain being the most noticeable one. But there are some exceptions:
- Women often experience heart attacks differently with less chest discomfort and more symptoms of indigestion, nausea, palpitations, and dizziness. (13)(14)
- People with diabetes have a tendency to suffer “silent” heart attacks, which are devoid of any chest pain but can be identified by the sudden onset of shortness of breath or abdominal pain/discomfort. (15)
Common Risk Factors Related to a Heart Attack
Here are some things that can make you more vulnerable to a heart attack:
- Age – Men are more prone to heart attacks after the age of 45 years, whereas women have a higher risk of heart attack post menopause, which usually occurs around the age of 50 years. (16)
- Family history of heart disease – If your immediate family members suffer from heart disease, there is a high chance that you will develop it too. This applies to people whose father or brother develops heart disease before turning 55 or whose mother or sister is diagnosed with it before the age of 65 years. (17)
- Lifestyle – Certain habits or lifestyle choices are responsible for increasing your risk of suffering a heart attack. These include a lack of physical activity, cigarette/tobacco use, drinking too much alcohol, and a poor diet.
- Medical conditions – Certain preexisting conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol levels, hypertension, and obesity can make you more susceptible to heart attacks. (18)
Preventive Tips to Reduce the Risk of a Heart Attack
Some people are genetically predisposed to heart disease or heart attacks, and there is nothing they can do to minimize that risk. But you can adopt the following lifestyle changes to reduce other risk factors associated with heart attacks:
- Give up smoking and all kinds of tobacco products. (19)
- Keep yourself fit and active by doing moderate-intensity exercise regularly for at least half an hour.
- Consume a heart-healthy diet.
- Maintain a healthy weight through proper eating and regular exercise.
- People with preexisting cardiovascular ailments should take proper medication, practice self-care, and go for regular checkups to reduce the risk of a heart attack.
What Are the Emergency Steps to Follow When One Has Heart Symptoms?
If you think you might be having a heart attack, immediately call 911. Even if you may not be sure if the symptoms you are experiencing are due to a heart attack, have it checked out.
It is critical to minimize delays from symptom onset to treatment of a heart attack as it minimizes the damage to the heart and increases the chances of survival.
Driving while having a heart attack can lead to accidents and must be avoided. An emergency medical services team is equipped to begin treatment upon arrival to an emergency. They additionally are able to communicate ahead to the hospital to expedite the necessary care.
It is also unsafe to drive yourself to the hospital during a heart attack as you may have progressively worsening symptoms, including loss of consciousness, which would put yourself and others at risk if you are behind the wheel.
It is important to familiarize yourself with the various warning signs of a heart attack and seek immediate medical assistance as soon as you notice any of them.
Even the slightest inkling of a possible heart attack should not be undermined. Some of its symptoms may be mild or confused with other relatively harmless conditions such as gastrointestinal problems, so you have to be extra cautious.
Digestive distress can lead to chest discomfort, nausea, and indigestion, and so can heart attacks. If you regularly experience these symptoms in a mild, temporary but predictable pattern, then it’s most probably a digestive issue.
But if these symptoms occur abruptly and become progressively worse, especially with any kind of movement or physical strain, it is more likely heart related.
So, even if you do not have any previous history of heart problems and no risk factors associated with heart attacks, it is crucial that you get these symptoms evaluated by a doctor without delay.