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How To Tell If You’re Having A Heart Attack

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Ignoring Your Family History

How to Know if You’re Having a Heart Attack

According to research published in the journal Circulation, men with a family history of heart disease had nearly a 50 percent increased risk of developing cardiovascular problems. The National Institutes of Health calls that family history a primary risk for heart disease. Are you doomed? No. But it’s all the more reason to prioritize heart health.

The Rx: Make sure your doctor knows about your family history and ask if any additional screening tests would be a good idea. “Your family medical history is a key, but complex, risk factor for heart disease,” said Dr. Pradeep Natarajan, a cardiologist with Massachusetts General Hospital, in Harvard Men’s Health Watch. “The risk factor will always be there, but the longer you live without developing heart disease with healthy behaviors, the smaller its effect.”

You Have Uncontrolled Diabetes

The risk of developing Type 2 diabetes increases dramatically over age 40, so much that the American Diabetes Association recommends a regular diabetes screening for all adults over 45. Diabetes causes sugars to build up in the blood over time, that damages arteries and can lead to cardiovascular disease.

The Rx: Get screened during your annual physical. If you’re on medication for your diabetes, make sure you’re compliant with dosages and monitoring.

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.

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What Should I Do If I Think Im Having A Heart Attack

The first thing you must do is dial 999 immediately for an ambulance. Dont worry if youre not completely sure whether your symptoms are a heart attack, its really important that you seek medical attention regardless as quickly as possible.

Next, you should:

  • take a 300mg aspirin if you have one within arms reach
  • stay calm and wait for the paramedics.

People often dismiss that theyre having a heart attack and will delay seeking medical attention. If youre with someone whos experiencing heart attack symptoms but theyre putting off or refusing to call an ambulance, its really important that you call one for them.

Types Of Heart Attacks

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The scientific term for a heart attack is myocardial infarction or MI for short. There are different kinds of heart attacks, and the severity, diagnosis and treatment for each may be different.

What all heart attacks have in common is that something is preventing oxygen-containing, nutrient-rich blood from getting to the heart muscle. The amount of damage to the heart will depend on the type of heart attack, the severity of blockage and the time it took to get treated.

Heres what you need to know about the types of heart attacks:

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Living In Lower Altitude Places

If you want to avoid experiencing a heart attack, move to the mountains! One 2017 study published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology found that those who lived in lower-altitude places had an increased risk of metabolic syndromeone of the risk factors for heart disease and heart attacks.

The Rx: If you do live in a lower altitude setting, you might not have the option of moving. However, you should be more cognizant of the other heart attack risk factors and focus on keeping them to a minimum.

Why You Should Call 911 For A Possible Heart Attack

You may feel hesitant to call 911 when you arent certain that youre having a heart attack. You might try the wait-and-see approach instead, or you might consider going to the hospital by car.

If youre truly having a heart attack, the quickest way to get help is calling 911. Youll receive care as soon as EMTs arrive, and people who arrive by ambulance to the emergency department for heart attacks are seen sooner than people who arrive by car. Damage to the heart muscle may occur within the first 90 minutes after a heart attack, so getting prompt care is essential, even if you arent entirely certain that what youre experiencing is a heart attack.

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Stroke Vs Heart Attack Risk Factors

When we think about heart attack versus a stroke, we know that two different organs are at play, yet the risk factors for both are the same. The list below covers the common risk factors:

People who have atrial fibrillation or AF, which is a heart rhythm abnormality, also have an increased risk of stroke. During AF, the heart does not beat strong enough and blood can pool in the heart, forming a clot. If the clot breaks free and travels toward the brain, it can cause what is known as an ischemic stroke. In the case of an ischemic stroke, if an artery remains blocked for more than a few minutes, brain cells could die. This is the reason that immediate medical attention is so important.

What Are The Symptoms Of Heart Attack

How to know if youre having a heart attack

The major symptoms of a heart attack are

  • Chest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
  • Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint. You may also break out into a cold sweat.
  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders.
  • Shortness of breath. This often comes along with chest discomfort, but shortness of breath also can happen before chest discomfort.

Other symptoms of a heart attack could include unusual or unexplained tiredness and nausea or vomiting. Women are more likely to have these other symptoms. Learn more about women and heart disease.

Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack.1Learn more facts about heart attack and heart disease.

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Eating Too Much Saturated Fat

There’s been some confusion around fats and cholesterol and heart health in recent years, but the latest science is this: According to the American Heart Association, eating foods high in saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol in your blood, which increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. What foods are high in sat fat? Red meat, chicken with skin, butter and cheese.

The Rx: For good heart health, the AHA recommends that you consume only 13 grams of saturated fat per day. Focus your diet on lean protein and as many colorful fruits and vegetables as possible.

Other Heart Attack Early Warning Signs And Symptoms: Arm And Back Pain

Arm 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.

General malaise

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.


Sweating, or perspiration, can accompany a heart attack. Some people have described feeling like they are breaking out in a cold sweat.

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Being Sick With The Flu

Getting the flu sucks in so many ways. But you might not know it can seriously impact your heart health. According to a 2018 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, during those first seven days after influenza has been confirmed, you are much more prone to having a heart attack due to your compromised immune system.

The Rx: Get the flu shot! It will not only reduce your chances of getting sick, but keep your downtime to a minimum.

Water And Cayenne Pepper

Pin on Cardiac Treatment

Another online recommendation thats not effective is to drink a glass of water with a spoonful of cayenne pepper in it. Some people say cayenne pepper is a stimulant capable of increasing the heart rate and carrying blood all over the body, balancing circulation. Some claim that cayenne pepper can stop bleeding instantly.

There is no proof, however, that cayenne pepper or other types of pepper are useful when taken at the onset of a heart attack. Whats more, its not understood how capsaicin might interact with aspirin when taken during a heart attack and experts know that aspirin is helpful.

While you cant control all your heart attack risk factors, such as aging, gender , and heredity, there are some that you can control. To prevent your risk of a heart attack:

  • Stop smoking and minimize your exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Get your high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure under control by modifying your diet, losing weight, taking medication, or doing a combination of these things.
  • Stay physically active daily.
  • Control your weight if youre overweight or obese.
  • If you have diabetes, take care by sticking to your treatment plan and managing your blood sugar.
  • Get a handle on the stress in your life by practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing or yoga, or try talk therapy.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption.

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What Can I Expect If I Have A Silent Heart Attack

Everyones experience is a bit different based on how much their heart attack hurt their heart, but most people can get back to doing regular things little by little and have active lives.

Some people can get abnormal heart rhythms or heart failure, which can be serious. People who wait too long to get help for a heart attack run the risk of severe damage to their hearts and may not survive if they dont get help soon enough.

Heart Attacks In Older Adults

Many older adults may not experience chest pain during heart attacks, particularly those with diabetes. Older people may have silent heart attacks, or they may notice mild symptoms, including:

  • feeling fatigued or tired
  • shortness of breath

Sometimes, older adults experience some of the milder heart-attack symptoms that women experience, like heartburn, nausea or sweating.

If youre concerned that you could be having a heart attack because of these milder symptoms, call 911 to get checked out. Even if youre only having trouble catching your breath especially if you havent done anything to physically exert yourself its worthwhile to investigate.

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Why Do I Write Often But Not Always Above

An EKG is a useful test and frequently a helpful one, providing lots of relevant information, but IT IS NOT A PERFECT TEST. There are no perfect tests in medicine. In other words, a persons EKG can be normal and theyll still be having a heart attack. Also, someones EKG can be abnormal and it does NOT signal that theyre having a heart attack.

Physician judgment and interpretation of the information an EKG provides figures heavily into decisions that are made about whether or not an individual is having a heart attack.

Also, other tests, including x-rays, laboratory investigations, CT scans and more can be, and often are, done to help determine what is really going on.

Again, an EKG is an important test in someone suspected of having a heart attack, but it is just one test among many that can and will be done. Its interpretation in context is critically important. The information provided by an EKG is NOT perfect. To repeat, a normal EKG does NOT mean no heart attack, and an abnormal EKG does NOT necessarily mean a heart attack has occurred.

Are There Complications Of A Heart Attack

How to tell if you’re having a heart attack

Complications following a heart attack can include:

  • Arrhythmia your heart may develop an irregular heartbeat following a heart attack due to damaged heart muscles disrupting electrical signals.
  • Heart failure your heart may have ongoing difficulty pumping enough blood, due to its muscles being too weak or stiff.
  • Cardiogenic shock where your whole body goes into shock from extensive heart muscle damage.
  • Heart rupture this is a rare but serious complication in which the hearts muscles, walls or valves split apart.

These can be dangerous if untreated, but your healthcare team will help to manage them if they occur.

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What’s The Difference Between Angina And A Heart Attack

Angina is pain felt in your chest often caused by coronary heart disease. As the symptoms of angina are similar to a heart attack, its important to know how to distinguish between the two. If you havent been diagnosed with angina and you start experiencing chest pain that feels similar to the symptoms of a heart attack, phone 999 immediately.If you have angina and you start experiencing chest pain symptoms similar to a heart attack:

  • sit down and rest
  • use your glyceryl trinitrate spray that youve been prescribed
  • if the pain still persists after a few minutes, take another dose of your spray
  • if the pain doesnt go away a few minutes after your second dose, dial 999 immediately.

When Should I See My Doctor

  • severe
  • get worse quickly, or
  • last longer than 10 minutes
  • If calling triple zero does not work on your mobile, try calling 112. Early treatment could save a life.

    See your doctor regularly to manage your general health, test for heart disease risk factors and help you take steps to prevent a heart attack.

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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.

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
  • As with men, womens most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
  • Increased Risk In Women

    Know the signs of a heart attack and donât ignore or ...

    Whilst symptoms for men and women are often the same for a stroke, women have a higher lifetime risk of stroke and have a number of gender-specific risk factors. Many of these risk factors for stroke also increase womens risk of heart disease. In Australia, 9 in every 10 women have one risk factor for heart disease, and half of all women have 2 or 3 risk factors.

    Factors which specifically increase womens risk of stroke include:

    • Migraines with visual aura such as flashing lights, blind spots, difficulty focusing on things this is a risk, especially if combined with smoking and the oral contraceptive pill or hormone replacement therapy.
    • Some types of the oral contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy used to treat menopausal symptoms can increase the likelihood of blood clotting and so increase the risk of stroke in some women.

    Other risk factors for stroke and heart disease affecting women include:

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    When Should I See A Doctor

    Its important not to ignore symptoms and wait until they become severe. If you have a concern, talk to your doctor. If heart disease is caught early, there are many lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of further problems: eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, get regular exercise , maintain a healthy weight, drink alcohol in moderation , and dont smoke.

    Heart Attacks When Theres A Language Barrier

    Research has found that individuals who dont speak the local language are less likely to:

    • know the signs and symptoms of heart attack
    • see doctors regularly, which may help to lower the risk of heart attack

    Others who may be unable to communicate efficiently could experience the same problems. Additionally, adults who are nonverbal may have difficulty expressing that theyre having a heart attack and need medical attention.

    If your loved one has communication challenges and doesnt feel well, ask about subtle symptoms. You may help them get the care that they need.

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    Testing: What To Expect

    The hours following a heart attack can be scary and confusing. Your medical team may be incredibly busy and focused, and hard-pressed to explain everything thats happening.

    You and your caregivers are sure to have questions. You may wonder about the tests and procedures that are being performed.

    In the section below, youll find descriptions of the kinds of diagnostic procedures you may encounter as your doctors strive to identify the underlying causes of your heart attack.

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