Some Sobering Statistics About Heart Attacks
According to the American Heart Association, heart attacks claim the lives of approximately 735,000 Americans every year. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. However, treatment is highly successful if you’re suffering a heart attack and can get to an emergency room promptly. That’s why knowing the symptoms of a heart attack is vitally important, as it can be a matter of life and death.
How to Recognize When Someone is Having a Heart Attack
Many movies and television shows depict someone having a heart attack clutching his or her chest and collapsing. Indeed, chest pain is a telltale sign of a possible heart attack. It typically feels like squeezing pressure, a fullness in the chest, or pain that starts in the center of the chest. The pain may go away and come back. It can also spread to your arms, neck, head, and back. However, not everyone experiencing a heart attack has chest pain. You may have some or all of the following symptoms instead:
Headache, toothache, or jaw pain:
Some experience these types of pain instead of chest pain.
Shortness of breath:
You may gasp for air during an episode of shortness of breath. If you’re having a heart attack with chest pain, the shortness of breath may occur before or during the attack. It could also appear as the primary symptom without any chest pain.
Nausea and/or vomiting:
Although less common, you may feel sick to your stomach even though you may not vomit. Belching can accompany this feeling of nausea. Vomiting occurs when nausea becomes severe.
Discomfort in the upper middle abdomen:
Sharp, heavy pain in this area of the stomach could be an indication of an impending heart attack. It typically lasts for several minutes.
This is a common heart attack symptom, but it often doesn’t occur in the way you would expect. Rather than feeling too warm, people who have had this heart attack symptom describe it as more of a cold sweat. A person will likely feel cold, even though they’re perspiring.
Indigestion and/or heartburn:
You may experience stomach pain, belching, and burping as if you had just eaten too much or consumed food that didn’t agree with you. This is true whether you have recently eaten or not. If the pressure and pain of the heart attack occur in the upper middle abdomen, it will feel more like heartburn.
It’s common for heart attack pain to radiate down the arms, particularly the left arm. You may experience pain in your fingers and wrists as well.
Pain in the upper back:
Back pain can occur for a variety of reasons. However, it’s more likely a symptom of a heart attack when it’s sudden and you can feel it most intensely between your shoulder blades.
Fatigue, anxiety, or lightheadedness:
Sometimes it’s hard to describe what you’re feeling during a heart attack. You may have a general sense that something isn’t right or feel an overwhelming sense of doom, anxiety, or fatigue. This is one reason that individuals experiencing a panic attack sometimes confuse it with a heart attack.
Alternatively, you may have no symptoms at all during a heart attack. This occurs in about one-quarter of all cases, and it’s more common among individuals who have diabetes. Individuals having a silent heart attack often chalk up their symptoms to anxiety, stress, fatigue, or indigestion. Seek prompt medical attention if any of these symptoms appear suddenly.
Symptoms of a Heart Attack Can Differ Between Men and Women
If you’re a woman and you have a heart attack, you tend to have a poorer outcome than men because of the delay in recognizing symptoms. Because many women don’t experience the crushing chest pain most often associated with a heart attack, you may not know you’re having a heart attack when it happens. Women’s symptoms can appear more subtly than they do for men. Some of the most commonly reported symptoms among women who have had a heart attack include:
- Abdominal pain
- Arm pain
- Back pain
- Jaw pain
- Neck pain
- Pain between the shoulder blades
- Shortness of breath
Regardless if you’re a man or woman, heart attack symptoms require immediate medical help. Please call 9-1-1 for transport to the UPMC Western Maryland Emergency Department and do not attempt to drive yourself. With prompt care, our heart attack patients can recover their health and have a brighter future.