Where It May Hurt
During a heart attack, the location of the pain can also vary quite a bit from person to person, notes Dr. Rosenfield. It may occur in the arm, shoulder, neck, jaw, or elsewhere in the upper half of the body. “I had one patient who had earlobe pain, and another who felt pain in his wrist,” says Dr. Rosenfield. Other nonclassic symptoms people often dont attribute to a heart attack include nausea, vomiting, and weakness.
During his career, Dr. Rosenfield has seen many thousands of people whove had heart attacks. “Theres no question that women are more likely to experience nonclassic heart attack symptoms, but its important to remember that men can have those symptoms, too.”
Heart attack symptoms
Although the most common sign of a heart attack in both men and women is the classic one discomfort in the center of the chest that spreads through the upper body this symptom doesnt always occur. Some people experience nonclassic symptoms, and these may be slightly more frequent in women and in older people.
Womens Signs Of Heart Attack
The most common heart attack sign is chest pain or discomfort however, women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure. They may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue.
What Is The Link
These two distinct heart conditions are linked. Sudden cardiac arrest can occur after a heart attack, or during recovery. Heart attacks increase the risk for sudden cardiac arrest. Most heart attacks do not lead to sudden cardiac arrest. But when sudden cardiac arrest occurs, heart attack is a common cause. Other heart conditions may also disrupt the hearts rhythm and lead to sudden cardiac arrest. These include a thickened heart muscle , heart failure, arrhythmias, particularly ventricular fibrillation, and long Q-T syndrome.
Fast action can save lives. Find out what to do if someone experiences a heart attack or cardiac arrest.
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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 theres something wrong.
Doctors, however, overwhelmingly encourage people to get help if they suspect theyre experiencing early heart attack symptoms.
Even if youre 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 youre 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
How A Heart Attack Affects Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the inside walls of your arteries as it circulates throughout the body. Just as heart rate changes are unpredictable during a heart attack, so too are blood pressure changes.
Because blood flow in the heart is blocked and a portion of heart tissue is denied oxygen-rich blood, your heart may not be able to pump as strongly as it normally does, thus lowering your blood pressure.
A heart attack may also trigger a response from your parasympathetic nervous system, causing your heart and the rest of your body to relax and not fight while your heart struggles to keep blood circulating. This can also cause a dip in blood pressure.
On the other hand, the pain and stress from the heart attack can raise the blood pressure during a heart attack.
Risk factors for a heart attack include modifiable factors, such as your weight, as well as those beyond your control, such as your age. Some of the most common conditions that raise your risk for a heart attack include:
- advancing age
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Heart Attack Types And Diagnosis
A heart attack is also called a myocardial infarction, sometimes simply referred to as an MI. A heart attack occurs when a blockage in one or more coronary arteries reduces or stops blood flow to the heart, which starves part of the heart muscle of oxygen.
The blood vessel blockage might be complete or partial:
- A complete blockage of a coronary artery means you suffered a STEMI heart attack which stands for ST-elevation myocardial infarction.
- A partial blockage translates to an NSTEMI heart attack a non-ST-elevation myocardial infarction.
Diagnostic steps differ for STEMI and NSTEMI heart attacks, although there can be some overlap.
Remember: Never try to diagnose yourself. Always dial 911 if you think you might be having a heart attack. The EMS crew in your ambulance will route you to the right hospital based on your location.
How Does A Heart Attack Usually Happen
The heart is a muscle made up of cells. Just like other muscles, the hearts muscle cells depend on a steady supply of oxygen from the bloodstream to live and function properly. And just like other muscles, open blood vessels are necessary for the hearts muscle cells to receive blood and oxygen. When one of these blood vessels is blocked, heart muscle cells die. Heart muscle cell death is a heart attack or myocardial infarction.
A blood clot in an already-narrowed blood vessel that supplies heart muscle is the usual cause of a heart attack.
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What Are The Symptoms Of A Heart Attack
Heart attack symptoms can vary but the most common signs of a heart attack are:
- chest pain or discomfort that suddenly occurs and doesnt go away. It may feel like pressure, squeezing or heaviness in your chest. It can feel like indigestion or a burning sensation
- pain that may spread to your left or right arm or may spread to your neck, jaw, back or stomach
- feeling sick, sweaty, light-headed or short of breath.
Other less common symptoms include:
- a sudden feeling of anxiety that can feel similar to a panic attack
- excessive coughing or wheezing due to a build up of fluid in the lungs.
Pain levels can also vary from person to person. For some people the pain or tightness in their chest is severe, while other people just feel uncomfortable, or pain similar to indigestion. Heart attack symptoms can persist over days, or they can come on suddenly and unexpectedly.
What Does A Heart Attack Feel Like
Though chest pain is synonymous with most peoples understanding of what a heart attack feels like, McLaughlin says thats not totally accurate. Ive been a cardiologist for 20 years, and anytime I go to the emergency room and ask patients, Where is your pain, the patients having heart attacks constantly say, No, its not pain its pressure, she says. There are certain heart attacks that feel like very strong pain. But in general, they start out as a pressure and sometimes a squeezing sensation that can go down either arm. McLaughlin compares that pressure feeling to a too tight bra a constriction, or a feeling as though ones chest is being pressed.
Sweating is also typical of a heart attack, as is nausea especially for women, says McLaughlin. But crucially, heart attacks, unlike panic attacks, will last longer than ten minutes. Furthermore, absent the typical risk factors for heart attacks for women, being 60 or older, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes otherwise healthy people in their 20s and 30s especially should try not to worry that theyre having a heart attack because of chest pain, says McLaughlin. Which is, of course, easier said than done, so here are a few more tactics you can use to reassure yourself.
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Avoidance Strategies For Heart Attacks And Heartburn
Raise the head of your bed by a couple of inches, or add another pillow. Its often a simple matter of gravity. says Peters.
According to a study in The American Journal of Epidemiology, a lack of cardiovascular fitness is the single biggest heart attack indicator. Do three high-intensity interval aerobic sessions a week. And toast your dawn run with high-fibre cereal, which Harvard academics say binds to cholesterol floating in your blood stream, stopping it from attaching to artery walls.
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Heart Attack Symptoms In Women
If you have any of these signs, call 911 and get to a hospital right away.
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Worst Case Scenario With Heart Attacks And Heartburn
If its a one-off, youre in the clear. More frequent and you could be in trouble: Regular heartburn can be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease , which can lead to ulcers, hernias or diabetes, warns Dr Kevin Whelan, nutritional scientist at Kings College, London.
Every 11 minutes a British man meets his maker by way of cardiac arrest, with one in three dying before reaching hospital: Fifty per cent of deaths occur within three to four hours of the first symptoms, so if youre in doubt, ring for an ambulance. says Whelan.
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Anxiety As A Heart Attack Symptom
One other common heart attack symptom is anxiety, or a vague but undeniable feeling that somethings wrong.
Research shows that a heart attack causes victims to feel like theyre having a panic attack. But this is a dangerous assumption. Rather than get help immediately, some individuals having a heart attack want to chalk up their symptoms to indigestion or anxiety or feeling worn out from too much exertion.
In addition, if the pressure in your chest isnt too uncomfortable and youre just a little short of breath, you may think youre having some mild heart attack symptoms. This could lead you to not take them seriously.
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Other Heart Attack Early Warning Signs And Symptoms: Arm And Back Pain
The chest pain of a heart attack can spread, or radiate, down one or both arms and to the shoulders. This often happens, and the pain may even extend to the wrist and fingers. This is most common on the left side of the body but it can also occur on the right side.
Upper back pain
The upper back is another common location for the spread of the pain from a heart attack. Most commonly, back pain that stems from a heart attack is described as occurring between the shoulder blades.
A feeling of being generally unwell or like you are coming down with an illness can accompany a heart attack. This can be described as fatigue or even lightheadedness, with or without fainting. Some people will experience severe anxiety or panic during a heart attack. This has been described as feeling a sense of doom, as one experiences a panic attack.
Heart Attack Testing: Faq
Q: Why do I have to submit to a bunch of tests?A: Tests help the doctor determine if a heart attack occurred, how much your heart was damaged and what degree of coronary artery disease you might have. The tests screen your heart and help the doctor determine what treatment and lifestyle changes will keep your heart healthy and prevent serious future medical events.
Q: Whats the difference between invasive and non-invasive tests?A: Non-invasive cardiac tests measure your hearts activity through external imaging and electrocardiography. Invasive tests include drawing and testing samples of your blood, and inserting and threading a thin hollow tube called a catheter into a blood vessel to get an inside view.
Q: How can I learn more about the tests that may be performed?A: These diagnostic tests and procedures can reveal if you had a heart attack, how much damage was done and what degree of coronary artery disease you have.
Q: What types of treatment will I get after the hospital diagnoses my heart attack?A: If youve had a heart attack, you may have already had undergone certain procedures to help you survive your heart attack. Those same procedures can help to diagnose your condition. Such procedures include:
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Does Menopausal Hormone Therapy Increase A Womans Risk For Heart Disease
Menopausal hormone therapycan help with some symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, and bone loss, but there are risks, too. For some women, taking hormones can increase their chances of having a heart attack or stroke. If you decide to use hormones, use them at the lowest dose that helps for the shortest time needed. Talk with your doctor if you have questions about MHT.
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What A Heart Attack Doesnt Feel Like
Not all chest pain is a heart attack symptom. Pain isunlikely to be heart-related when it:
- Is momentary,lasting only for a few seconds.
- Feels like apricking sensation.
- Is in a small,well-localized area of your chest.
- Can bereproduced when you press on your chest or move your arm.
- Radiates belowyour abdomen and into your legs.
The best way to guard yourself from a heart attack is to eat a healthy diet, do regular aerobic activity, avoid smoking, manage diabetes if you have it, have regular checkups with your primary care provider, and know and control your cholesterol levels, says Dr. Menon.
If you notice a sudden changein your ability to perform physical activity, get to a doctor right away.
Uncomfortable Pressure Squeezing Fullness Or Pain In The Chest
Feeling any of the above in the middle of your chest for more than a few minutes is the most common indication of a heart attack. The sensations may go away and come back as well.
Dr. Druz tends to ask her patients to rate their chest sensation by its intensity. Sometimes patients describe it as an elephant sitting on their chest, or as a chest constriction or squeezing sensation, she says. In terms of intensity, well ask them to rate it from one and 10, with one being very slight pain and 10 being very intense pain or comparable sensation. Any pain which is at least six out of 10 raises a red flag.
Heart Attack Symptoms: Women Vs Men
Women may experience classic symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath as many men do, but they also tend to experience stomach pain, back pain, and other non-classic symptoms.
Because of the subtlety in those symptoms, many women brush off these warning signs and already have heart damage by the time they get to the Emergency Department.
And many women put their families before their own health. But you cant take care of your loved ones if your own health is not where it needs to be.
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Learn To Identify An Emergency
If youre at risk to develop cardiovascular disease or suffer a heart attack, the best thing you can do is train yourself to recognize anything out of the ordinary. Dont ignore symptoms or potential risk factors. Take good care of yourself. And most importantly, if you suspect youre experiencing a heart attack, call 911 or get to an emergency center immediately.
Connect with us to learn more about heart disease in men and mens health overall.
Shortness Of Breath And A Racing Heart
Having trouble breathing, or like you can’t take a full breath, is another common symptom of heart attacks, and may be experienced independently of chest pain. This type of symptom tends to be a bit more common in women than in men, says Dr. Druz. You may also feel like your heart is racing or skipping a beat even when you’re not doing anything physically straining.
Unfortunately, many women and their doctors write this off as a panic attack as it can feel similar to anxiety yet, shortness of breath is often the first heart attack symptom people notice. Regardless of the cause, if you cant catch your breath for more than a minute or two, get it checked out.
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