It’s estimated that someone in the United States experiences a heart attack every 40 seconds. And every year, about 647,000 Americans die from heart disease. But not all of them go through the chest-clutching collapse that you often see in movies and medical drama. Heart attacks can happen slowly or suddenly and in different degrees of intensity. It can be silent, but it can also be shockingly sudden. In short: heart attack symptoms aren’t so easily recognizable.
But having the ability to identify the symptoms of a heart attack can help you save a life. Recognizing one right away allows for immediate treatment. Since heart attacks are a life-threatening emergency that necessitates quick action, being able to know the signs allows the patient to have better chances for survival.
Warning signs of a heart attack
Chest pain or discomfort
Most heart attacks involve some kind of pain or discomfort in the chest. It can be mild or severe, and can sometimes feel like uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, tightness, burning, or tingling. The sensation usually lasts longer than a few minutes.
Upper body pain or discomfort
The pain in the chest can travel elsewhere around the upper body, usually in the arms and shoulders. In some cases, the pain can move to the back, neck, jaw, and upper part of the stomach above the belly button. With men, they often feel pain in their left arm, but people who experience heart attacks can have symptoms on either side of their bodies.
Shortness of breath
If a patient feels pressure and pain in the chest that makes it harder for them to breathe, it may be a symptom of a heart attack. But there are cases where one can have shortness of breath without feeling any discomfort. This is because the heart is struggling to pump blood and fails to deliver oxygen to the lungs, resulting in breathing issues.
Weakness or lightheadedness
In addition to the lungs, the lack of oxygen can also result in feeling faint, unsteady, lightheaded, or weak. When the heart is not working as it should, the blood pressure plummets, causing the patient to feel dizzy.
Men and women experience different symptoms
Men are more likely to experience a heart attack than women. They also tend to have heart attacks earlier in life. For men who have a family history of heart disease or a history of cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and obesity, the chances of having a heart attack increases.
For symptoms, men usually experience chest pain or pressure, upper body pain or discomfort, rapid or irregular heartbeat, stomach discomfort similar to indigestion, shortness of breath, dizziness, and breaking out in a cold sweat.
On the other hand, women’s symptoms when it comes to heart attacks are more subtle. In a study of over 500 women who’d experienced a heart attack, most of them reported symptoms that didn’t include chest pain. Instead, they feel the following: unusual fatigue that lasts days, sleep disturbances, anxiety, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, indigestion, upper back, shoulder, or throat pain, jaw pain, and pressure in the chest.
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