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What Does Having A Heart Attack Feel Like

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From ‘indigestion’ To A ‘pulled Muscle’ Survivors Share Very Different Experiences

What Does a Heart Attack Feel Like?

by Jennifer Wolff, AARP, December 12, 2019| 0

En español | More than 1 million Americans will suffer from a heart attack this year, and about 150,000 of them will die from it, according to the American Heart Association. Thing is, more than half of the people who have a heart attack don’t recognize its symptoms. People have this idea of the Hollywood heart attack, which is a man squeezing his chest, the feeling of the balloon about to burst, says clinical cardiologist Malissa Wood, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. So when people don’t have that classic symptom that they’ve seen or heard about, they think, Well, this must be something else.'”

Wood admits that the medical literature describing telltale symptoms can contradict itself, and says the combination of misinformation and downright denial complicates matters. Basically if you feel something in your back, chest, jaw or tooth that you haven’t felt before, get it checked out, she says. The way to know is if you experience something you haven’t felt before. For those who’ve had heart problems previously, the advice often still applies. The one uniform thing people say is the symptom that they had was very different from what they had felt previously. And it’s not always pain. Sometimes it’s just a little discomfort, or an ache.

Here, five heart attack survivors share their very different experiences and what they wish they’d realized sooner.

Study Finds Prevalence Of Unrecognized Mini Heart Attacks Is Alarming

According to a study published in the Nov. 10, 2015, Journal of the American Medical Association , the number of individuals who unknowingly suffer silent myocardial infarctions is disturbing. The study, Prevalence and Correlates of Myocardial Scar in a US Cohort evaluated the heart-health of nearly 2,000 individuals. Participant ages ranged from 45 to 84 years and none had been diagnosed with clinical cardiovascular disease when the study began .

Ten years later , the participants were re-evaluated. At this time, researchers discovered that 8 percent of the participants had myocardial scarring, which indicates that he or she had suffered a heart attack. Surprisingly, 80 percent of those with scarring had no idea that they had a problem.

Furthermore, in this study, myocardial scarring was seen much more frequently in males than in females . This scarring of the heart, in combination with the lack of seeking medical care at the time of the mini heart attack, increases an individuals risk of suffering a more harmful, potentially fatal, heart attack in the future.

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  • Surgery.
  • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation.
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    You Feel Dizzy Or Lightheaded

    A lot of things can make you lose your balance or feel faint for a moment. Maybe you didnât have enough to eat or drink, or you stood up too fast.

    But if you suddenly feel unsteady and you also have chest discomfort or shortness of breath, call a doctor right away.

    “It could mean your blood pressure has dropped because your heart isn’t able to pump the way it should,” Bufalino says.

    Learn About Your Local Heart Attack Resources

    What Does It Feel Like When You are Having a Heart Attack?

    One of the most important ways you can advocate for yourself is doing research. âTake action before you ever have a heart attack,â Caulin-Glaser says.

    âItâs important for women to do their homework regarding the hospitals in their neighborhoods. Find out which hospitals specialize in heart disease,â she says. Some questions for women to ask:

    • Does the hospital have a cardiac catheterization lab that performs procedures such as angioplasties and stents?
    • Is this âcath labâ available 24 hours, seven days a week?
    • Is there a coronary bypass surgery program?
    • Once women arrive in the emergency room with a heart attack, how quickly are they sent to the cath lab?
    • Can doctors open a blocked blood vessel within the acceptable range of 90 minutes?
    • Are all of the doctors in the emergency department board-certified in emergency medicine

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    The Anxiety Attack Experience

    Panic attacks are often misunderstood because of the word “panic.” In truth, they’re filled with primarily physical symptoms. These symptoms include:

    • Rapid heartbeat.
    • Trouble getting a deep breath.
    • Weakness or tingling in the extremities.

    There are mental symptoms as well, but many relate to the physical symptoms. Panic attacks often cause an intense feeling of doom, usually around these health problems – the same feeling of doom you would likely experience if you were suffering from a heart attack.

    What To Look For And What Attacks Feel Like

    Most people ignore abdominal discomfort or pains that come and go. These seem commonplace, so they dont mention it to their doctor that is, until the pain becomes sharp. The problem with ignoring intermittent pain is that this symptom may indicate gallbladder problems. You may actually be experiencing the initial phases of a gallbladder attack.

    The moment patients realize there is a real issue is when they experience sudden pain, usually in the middle or upper right section of their abdomen. This pain may last only a few moments and then suddenly lessen or disappear. The pain may also be accompanied by discomfort in their back, either between their shoulder blades or towards their right shoulder. In general, patients abdominal pain only lasts for a few hours. However, some experience pain that lasts up to ten hours or even a full day.

    Many patients mistake their abdominal pain for indigestion or other abdominal complaints. And when the back pain develops, they sometimes believe its just a passing back issue. However, you can distinguish a gallbladder attack because both pains coincide.

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    Treating Left Arm Pain

    If your left arm pain is benign, you can initially treat it by resting, applying a cold compress to the painful area and elevating your arm. If the pain is caused by a fracture, your arm will have to be immobilised in a plaster cast for several weeks. If it is caused by a musculoskeletal issue , treatment may include painkillers or anti-inflammatory drugs, rest, and physiotherapy. Using one of the OMRON HeatTens range of pain relievers can also help to relieve muscle and joint pain using a combination of soothing heat and Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation . If the pain is caused by an underlying heart condition, the treatment may involve taking medication for pain relief, in addition to making some radical changes to your lifestyle. Finally, if someone is having a heart attack, they must receive immediate medical treatment because heart attacks can be fatal and sometimes require surgery if medication alone does not dissolve the clot that is causing the problem.


    Wexler, A. . Why do I have a pain in my left arm? Retrieved from

    Pietrangelo, A. . Why is there pain in my left arm? Retrieved from

    New Health Guide. What causes pain on the left arm? Retrieved from

    Cathie Lazarus 58 Manhattan Beach California

    What a heart attack looks like

    TV producer Cathie Lazarus was two months into her training to be a volunteer for the Los Angeles Police Department Reserves when she appeared to have dropped dead on the gym floor. I was doing interval training with a new personal trainer I had just finished throwing a weighted ball back and forth while also doing situps, she recalls. But that’s about all the divorced mother of two grown daughters remembers about the event that nearly took her life at age 52. I’m told that I stood up after finishing and said, Whoa! and dropped. My heart and breathing stopped instantly. Can you imagine being my trainer and thinking you had just killed your client? I didn’t regain consciousness for a couple of days.”

    Lazarus suffered a sudden cardiac arrest different from a heart attack in that it’s an electrical issue rather than a mechanical one, and a phenomenon that kills more often than it spares. Basically it’s like a fuse blew out, but that fuse was her heart. Cardiac arrest causes sudden death, she says. So I felt nothing. Indeed, about 90 percent of SCAs prove fatal, according to the AHA. Only some 25 percent of those who survive can point to any symptoms that preceded their SCA.

    Bystanders at the gym and, eventually, paramedics, spent nearly 30 minutes doing CPR, trying to bring Lazarus back. And the EMTs continued performing CPR until her heart finally started beating on its own at the hospital.

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    Robert Neyhard 70 Wilkes

    “Honest to God, I thought it was indigestion, Robert Neyhard says of the most horrible pain in my chest he felt in the middle of an October 2018 night. The local radio talk show host didn’t want to stir his wife, so he tiptoed out of their bedroom, drank a glass of 7-Up, and swallowed some antacid pills. After a big burp I thought, Well, OK, all is fine.'”

    The pain subsided a bit over the next couple of days, but would return with a punch, doubling him over. I couldn’t even stand up, Neyhard recalls, admitting that he felt reassured that he was not having a heart attack because he didn’t feel pain down his arms. I didn’t tell anyone, and just hid it and took Motrin and Pepto-Bismol. I was in denial.”

    Or maybe what Neyhard was feeling was so different from the sledgehammer to the chest he experienced during his first heart attack, at age 49, that he couldn’t see the link. That time, right away he knew what was wrong after all, his father had died of a heart attack at 63 his mother at 36. That time, Neyhard rushed to the home of a neighbor, a doctor, just a few houses away. It was the perfect storm, he says today of all his cardiac risk factors. I had bad genes, was exposed to Agent Orange in Nam, and didn’t take care of myself.”

    The pain that jarred him from sleep some two decades later was a different kind of pain, he says. It lingered.”

    What Should I Do If I Am Having An Anxiety Attack

    If you think you might be having an anxiety attack, the first step to handling it is to recognize that you are having one. This is why knowing about triggers and symptoms of an attack is important in the long-run. Once you can identify that youre having an anxiety attack, you can carry out steps to help you cope with it.

    After recognizing that you are having an anxiety attack or are about to have one, you should take deep breaths. Deep breaths can help prevent hyperventilation and slow a racing heartbeat. Try to relax your muscles at this time and dont tense up too much. By taking deep breaths and allowing your muscles to be loose, you can encourage your body to be more relaxed and decrease the feeling of losing control.

    Because anxiety attacks happen in response to a certain situation or circumstance, removing yourself from that situation, if possible, can be helpful in moving past the symptoms of an attack. Symptoms usually subside once the stressor has been removed.

    Overall, the most important idea in helping yourself during an anxiety attack is to try a variety of techniques to keep yourself calm. Taking deep breaths is one of the most widely used relaxation techniques. It is also useful to take some time to understand how you respond to anxiety and develop ways to lower anxiety and promote calm.

    After an attack has passed, take some time to reflect on any circumstances or stressors you think could have been triggered.

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    What It Feels Like When A Woman Has A Heart Attack

    What do you see when you imagine a heart attack? Does the victim probably a man stop what he’s doing, clutch his chest, and fall to the floor? We call that the “Hollywood Heart Attack.” It doesn’t paint the most accurate picture, particularly for women. The truth is: Heart attacks can be much harder to spot. Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. More women than men die from their heart attacks. That’s why I want to share with you the common symptoms of a heart attack in women.

    Silent Heart Attack Symptoms

    What does it feel like when you are about to have a heart ...

    Sometimes a heart attack doesnt cause obvious symptoms. This is known as a silent heart attack.

    Still, a silent heart attack may offer some warning signs, even if theyre brief and mild. These typically include variations on classic heart attack symptoms, such as:

    • Chest discomfort that lasts a few minutes, or comes and goes
    • Discomfort in your neck, jaw, arms, back, or stomach
    • Shortness of breath

    Silent heart attacks are more common in women than in men.

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    Susan Madero 66 Los Angeles

    On Valentine’s Day, 2015, Susan Madero was sitting in a movie theater watching American Sniper when she started feeling very full, as though she had eaten a big meal odd, because she hadn’t had dinner. Then the indigestion set in, and the sensation of a very large person sitting on her chest. Everything inside of her ribs started to tighten, and she grew short of breath. But Madero knew her husband wanted to see the end of the movie, and talked herself into believing the leftover Chinese food she ate at lunch was just giving her trouble. It wasn’t until I started having pain in my right shoulder and arm, followed with pain in the front of my neck and then up to my jaw, that I thought something was seriously wrong, she says. But even then she didn’t say anything. Being a woman, I didn’t want to make a big deal of this.”

    After the movie ended she told her husband, Maybe we should go to the hospital. Once there, an EKG revealed nothing abnormal. And Madero felt so much better while waiting for further tests, she decided to go home. So, having been there an hour, Madero signed a waiver confirming that she was refusing further medical treatment, and left.

    Now, she says, her mission is to make more women aware of the signs and symptoms of heart attack and heart disease, and not to shrug them off.”

    Less Likely To Be A Heart Attack

    Sensation of pain, or of pressure, tightness, squeezing, or burning

    Sharp or knifelike pain brought on by breathing or coughing

    Gradual onset of pain over the course of a few minutes

    Sudden stabbing pain that lasts only a few seconds

    Pain in diffuse area, including a constant pain in middle of chest

    Pain clearly on one side of the body or the other

    Pain that extends to the left arm, neck, jaw, or back

    Pain that is localized to one small spot

    Pain or pressure accompanied by other signs, such as difficulty breathing, a cold sweat, or sudden nausea

    Pain that lasts for many hours or days without any other symptoms

    Pain or pressure that appears during or after physical exertion or emotional stress or while you are at rest

    Pain reproduced by pressing on the chest or with body motion

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    Complications Of A Heart Attack

    Complications of a heart attack can be serious and possibly life threatening.

    These include:

    • arrhythmias these are abnormal heartbeats. 1 type is where the heart begins beating faster and faster, then stops beating
    • cardiogenic shock where the heart’s muscles are severely damaged and can no longer contract properly to supply enough blood to maintain many body functions
    • heart rupture where the heart’s muscles, walls or valves split apart

    These complications can happen quickly after a heart attack and are a leading cause of death.

    Many people die suddenly from a complication of a heart attack before reaching hospital or within the 1st month after a heart attack.

    The outlook often depends on:

    • age serious complications are more likely as you get older
    • the severity of the heart attack how much of the heart’s muscle has been damaged during the attack
    • how long it took before a person received treatment treatment for a heart attack should begin as soon as possible

    What Makes You Worry That Chest Pain Is Serious Like A Heart Attack

    What does having a heart attack feel like?

    When is chest pain serious? That dull burning feeling in your chest doesn’t seem to be going away, and even feels like it is getting worse. Is it a heart attack, or ?

    It’s a vexing question, one that millions of people and their doctors face each year. What’s the problem? Chest pain can stem from dozens of conditions besides , from pancreatitis to pneumonia or panic attack.

    Millions of Americans with chest pain are seen in hospital emergency departments every year. Only 20% of them are diagnosed with a heart attack or an episode of unstable , a warning sign that a heart attack may happen soon. A few have another potentially life-threatening problem, such as pulmonary embolism or aortic dissection . Some are experiencing “regular” angina, which occurs when part of the heart isn’t getting as much oxygen-rich blood as it needs during periods of physical exertion or emotional stress. Most of them, though, had a condition unrelated to the heart or arteries.

    The other tricky problem with heart attacks is that different people experience them in different ways. Some have classic chest pain. Others have jaw pain or back pain. Still others become breathless, or extremely fatigued, or nauseated.

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