Learn to recognize a heart attack
If you ask about the symptoms of a heart attack, most people think of chest pain. Over the last couple of decades, however, scientists have learned that heart attack symptoms aren’t always so clear-cut.
Symptoms may show up in different ways and can depend on a number of factors, such as whether you’re a man or a woman, what type of heart disease you have, and how old you are.
It’s important to dig a little deeper to understand the variety of symptoms that may indicate a heart attack. Uncovering more information can help you learn when to help yourself and your loved ones.
Early symptoms of a heart attack
The sooner you get help for a heart attack, the better your chances for a complete recovery. Unfortunately, many people hesitate to get help, even if they suspect there’s something wrong.
Doctors, however, overwhelmingly encourage people to get help if they suspect they’re experiencing early heart attack symptoms.
Even if you’re wrong, going through some testing is better than suffering long-term heart damage or other health issues because you waited too long.
Heart attack symptoms vary from person to person and even from one heart attack to another. The important thing is to trust yourself. You know your body better than anyone. If something feels wrong, get emergency care right away.
According to the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care, early heart attack symptoms occur in 50 percent of all people who have heart attacks. If you’re aware of the early symptoms, you may be able get treatment quickly enough to prevent heart damage.
Eighty-five percent of heart damage happens in the first two hours following a heart attack.
Early symptoms of heart attack can include the following:
mild pain or discomfort in your chest that may come and go, which is also called “stuttering” chest pain
pain in your shoulders, neck, and jaw
nausea or vomiting
lightheadedness or fainting
feeling of “impending doom”
severe anxiety or confusion
Symptoms of a heart attack in men
You’re more likely to experience a heart attack if you’re a man. Men also have heart attacks earlier in life compared to women. If you have a family history of heart disease or a history of cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, obesity, or other risk factors, your chances of having a heart attack are even higher.
Fortunately, a lot of research has been done on how men’s hearts react during heart attacks.
Symptoms of a heart attack in men include:
standard chest pain/pressure that feels like “an elephant” is sitting on your chest, with a squeezing sensation that may come and go or remain constant and intense
upper body pain or discomfort, including arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
rapid or irregular heartbeat
stomach discomfort that feels like indigestion
shortness of breath, which may leave you feeling like you can’t get enough air, even when you’re resting
dizziness or feeling like you’re going to pass out
breaking out in a cold sweat
It’s important to remember, however, that each heart attack is different. Your symptoms may not fit this cookie-cutter description. Trust your instincts if you think something is wrong.
Symptoms of a heart attack in women
In recent decades, scientists have realized that heart attack symptoms can be quite different for women than for men.
Symptoms of heart attack in women include:
unusual fatigue lasting for several days or sudden severe fatigue
shortness of breath
indigestion or gas-like pain
upper back, shoulder, or throat pain
jaw pain or pain that spreads up to your jaw
pressure or pain in the center of your chest, which may spread to your arm
Base your decision on what feels normal and abnormal for you. If you haven’t experienced symptoms like this before, don’t hesitate to get help. If you don’t agree with your doctor’s conclusion, get a second opinion.
Silent heart attack symptoms
A silent heart attack is like any other heart attack, except it occurs without the usual symptoms. In other words, you may not even realize you’ve experienced a heart attack.
Silent heart attacks are more common among people with diabetes and in those who’ve had previous heart attacks.
Symptoms that may indicate a silent heart attack include:
mild discomfort in your chest, arms, or jaw that goes away after resting
shortness of breath and tiring easily
sleep disturbances and increased fatigue
abdominal pain or heartburn
Schedule regular checkups
By scheduling regular checkups and learning to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack, you can help lower your risk of severe heart damage from a heart attack. This may increase your life expectancy and well-being.