5 Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack

Symptoms of a heart attack can vary. Some people may have mild symptoms while others have more serve symptoms. There are even some people who experience no symptoms at all. A heart attack can be a terrifying experience for anyone. It’s important to learn the 5 signs and symptoms of a heart attack to be better prepared and maybe even save your life.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack or myocardial infarction occurs when the blood flow to the heart is severely reduced or blocked. A build-up of plaque causes this blockage. This plaque is caused by excessive fat, cholesterol, or other substances in the arteries. Sometimes the plaque can rupture and cause a blood clot that blocks blood flow to the heart.

A person can experience a heart attack in two ways, which can come on suddenly or gradually over time.

Sudden

The person will have had no early warning signs or symptoms that a heart attack was coming. The plaque deposits in the arteries would rupture, and once the blood flow to the heart was blocked, a heart attack would happen.

Gradually

Over time, the person would have developed coronary artery disease. The arteries would have begun to narrow, and once they reached 70%, the body would begin to give off early warning signs of a heart attack.

Another form of heart attack that is just as dangerous, if not more, is a silent heart attack.

Silent Heart attack

A silent heart attack or silent myocardial infarction (SMI) happens when the symptoms are so mild that people don’t recognize them or brush them off. These symptoms can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Heartburn
  • Discomfort in the chest, back, or jaw
  • Shortness of breath

According to the American Medical Association, most people with a silent heart attack also have diabetes. When a person suffers a silent heart attack, they don’t typically find out they had one until they start experiencing symptoms of heart failure like fatigue, indigestion, or shortness of breath.

Every time a person has a heart attack, it causes damage to the heart, so not knowing you have a heart attack can allow for a dangerous amount of damage to be done to the heart. Therefore, it is important to keep up with your routine doctor visits and make an appointment if you experience any new symptoms.

5 Signs of a heart attack

Hollywood has painted a very different picture of what a heart attack looks like, and because of this, many people overlook the key sign and symptoms of a heart attack. Even though the symptoms of a heart attack can vary, there are 5 common signs that a person has a heart attack.

  1. Pain or discomfort in the chest, especially on the left side
  2. Pain in the neck or back
  3. Pain in the arm or shoulder
  4. Feeling light-headed or weak
  5. Shortness of breath

As you can see, these symptoms are very different from the typical Hollywood heart attack. Women experience different symptoms than men when it comes to having a heart attack, and often these symptoms get overlooked. Women can experience:

  • Back Pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Pressure or fullness in the center of the chest
  • Upper abdominal pressure or discomfort
  • Vomiting

A more common early warning sign of a heart attack is a condition called Angina.

What is Angina?

Angina is chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart. Angina is a symptom of coronary artery disease. Angina is often mistaken for indigestion, so it is important to talk to your doctor about new symptoms you may be experiencing. Some of the symptoms you need to be aware of are:

  • The feeling of fullness or pressure in the chest
  • A sense of Squeezing in the center of your chest
  • Dizziness
  • Pain or discomfort in your arm, shoulder, neck, or jaw
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweats

Angina can be brought on during times of strong emotions, physical exertion, or after a big meal. The symptoms of Angina should subside after a few minutes. Your doctor may have prescribed you a medication called nitroglycerin to treat these symptoms. If, after taking this medication, your symptoms last longer than 5 minutes, call 911. If you have Angina, it is your body’s way of telling you you need to change your lifestyle.

What to do if you have a heart attack

If you think you have a heart attack, call 911 immediately! It is important to receive treatment within 1-2 of the first symptom to unblock the artery. The longer the heart is deprived of oxygen-rich blood, the more damage it can cause, including death. The American Heart Association recommends chewing an Aspirin. Aspirin is a potent inhibitor of blood clots. Chewing an aspirin can lower the risk of death from a heart attack.

Another medication that can help stop a heart attack is nitroglycerin. If you have a condition like Angina, your doctor would have already prescribed this medication. Nitroglycerin helps improve the blood flow through the blood vessels.

What to do if you see someone else having a heart attack

How to prevent a heart attack

If you believe someone has a heart attack, your first action should be to call 911. If the person appears unconscious, check to see if they are breathing or have a pulse. Suppose they don’t have a pulse or are not breathing; start CPR. If you are not familiar with or trained in CPR, you can do what is called hands-only CPR.

Hands-only CPR

For hands-only CPR, place the heel of one hand in the center of the chest, then interlace your fingers with the other hand on top. Position your body so that your shoulders are directly over your hands. Lock your elbows to keep your arms straight, and push hard and fast for 100 to 120 compressions per minute. Make sure the chest returns to its normal position after each compression.

Hands and mouth CPR

You can perform CPR using your hands and mouth if you are trained in CPR. If you are trained but it has been many years, or you are not comfortable doing traditional CPR with breath, do the chest compressions.

In the first few minutes of a heart attack, there’s still oxygen in the person’s lungs and bloodstream. Starting chest compressions first on someone unresponsive or not breathing helps send critical oxygen to the brain and heart without delay, thus saving their life.

How to prevent a heart attack

Even though there are some risk factors you can’t help with, like family history, there are things you can do to help reduce the risks of having a heart attack.

  • Make sure you are getting enough physical activity. Adults need 150 minutes of physical activity a day.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet consisting of lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Limiting your alcohol intake to no more than 2 alcoholic beverages a day.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight, excess weight puts more strain on the heart and puts you at a greater risk of developing diabetes.
  • Monitor your blood pressure and take any medications your doctor has prescribed you to control your blood pressure.
  • Maintain healthy cholesterol levels; keep up with any medications your doctor has prescribed for your cholesterol levels.
  • Quit smoking before trying the nicotine patch or some other method. Consult your primary doctor, as some ingredients may interfere with your other medications.
  • Reduce your stress level; some activities that help with stress relief are walking, yoga, meditation, and exercise. If none of these seem to help, you may need to talk to someone like a therapist.
  • If you have a pre consisting condition like diabetes, make sure you are taking the proper amount of insulin, eating a heart-healthy diet, and getting enough exercise.

It is estimated that 1.5 million people suffer a heart attack each year. Out of that 1.5 million people who have a heart attack, 530.000 end in death. This is why it is so important to know the early warning signs of a heart attack so you can take steps to reverse your risk of having a heart attack and know when to seek help. Keep up with all routine doctor visits, ensure you get enough physical activity, and maintain a healthy weight.

Bio: Index Health is a healthcare team specialized in personalization & the root cause. Our multi-disciplinary care team is made up of physicians and nutritionists that are trained and certified in (functional) root cause medicine.