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What Does It Feel Like To Have A Heart Attack

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Chest Pain Or Discomfort

What is it like to have a heart attack?

Chest pain is a common symptom of a heart attack.

During this stage of a heart attack, people may experience the following sensations in their chest:

  • pain
  • aching
  • heaviness

Some people also say that they experience a sense of tightness that can feel as though they are being squeezed.

Sometimes, these sensations can appear suddenly and intensely. This happens when the blockage occurs suddenly. If the blockage is slowly progressing over time, then the symptoms appear gradually. In these cases, people may mistake the sensations for heartburn or indigestion.

Anyone who experiences symptoms that occur with exertion and resolve with rest, even if they occur gradually, should always discuss them with a doctor, especially if they progress over time.

However, people should not wait to seek medical care for their chest pain. They should seek medical treatment immediately, particularly if other signs of a heart attack occur as well.

What To Do During A Heart Attack

A heart attack is a medical emergency.

The faster you get to a hospital, the better your chances of surviving the heart attack and minimizing damage to your heart muscle.

Even if youre not sure your symptoms indicate a heart attack, you should seek emergency medical care. Never worry about a false alarm or causing anyone embarrassment.

Follow these steps if you or someone around you is having heart attack symptoms:

Signs And Symptoms Of A Heart Attack In Women

Heart attack symptoms can vary from person to person but the most common signs of a heart attack are:

  • chest pain or discomfort in your chest that suddenly occurs and doesn’t go away. It may feel like pressure, tightness or squeezing
  • the pain may spread to your left or right arm or may spread to your neck, jaw, back or stomach
  • you may also feel 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

If you think you’re having a heart attack, call 999 for an ambulance immediately.

Women may be less likely to seek medical attention and treatment quickly, despite the warning signs. This can dramatically reduce your chance of survival. Rapid treatment is essential, and the aim is to restore blood flow to the affected part of the heart muscle as soon as possible. This helps to limit the amount of damage to the heart.

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Heart Attack Warning Signs And Symptoms: Digestive Problems

Nausea

Nausea or feeling sick on your stomach is a less common but possible symptom of a heart attack. Sometimes belching or burping can accompany nausea, and some patients have described a feeling like indigestion associated with a heart attack. Women are more likely than men to report these less typical symptoms of heart attack, and some patients have described feeling as though they are developing the flu.

Vomiting

What Are The Symptoms Of A Stemis Heart Attack

What a Heart Attack Really Feels Like

This chest discomfort may be described as a pressure or tightness rather than a sharp pain. Some people who experience STEMIs also describe feeling pain in one or both arms or their back, neck, or jaw. Other symptoms that may accompany chest pain include: Call for medical help immediately if you have symptoms of a heart attack.

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Silent Heart Attack Symptoms

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.

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

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.

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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

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

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

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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.

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Sit Down And Stay Calm

Try to relax and remain calm while you wait for help to arrive.

If youre at home alone, open the front door and sit on the floor near the entrance.

This will help the paramedics easily find you in case you lose consciousness before the ambulance arrives, and give them a flat surface on which to begin CPR if necessary.

What Are The Risk Factors For Heart Attack

Several health conditions, your lifestyle, and your age and family history can increase your risk for heart disease and heart attack. These are called risk factors. About half of all Americans have at least one of the three key risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and smoking.2

Some risk factors cannot be controlled, such as your age or family history. But you can take steps to lower your risk by changing the factors you can control.

Learn more about risk factors for heart disease and heart attack.

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Is There Anything That Distinguishes These Symptoms How Do You Know When Those Subtle Atypical Symptoms Are Concerning

Its important to know your risk for heart disease in order to assess early symptoms. Dr. Xu says when he works with a patient, they discuss his or her family and personal history, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, age and disease history to determine a risk level for heart attacks.

Within this context of risk, they talk about symptoms. Are they typical or not? How are they experienced? At rest or during exertion? Are they associated with emotional stress or cold weather? Are they happening in conjunction with other symptoms such as shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat or cold sweats? This is the starting point for a treatment plan.

Catch The Signs Early

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

Dont wait to get help if you experience any of these heart attack warning signs. Some heart attacks are sudden and intense. But most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Pay attention to your body and call 911 if you experience:

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or it may go away and then return. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. This can occur with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs. Other possible signs include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

Download the common heart attack warning signs infographic |

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What Happens To Your Stomach When You Have A Heart Attack

Nausea, Indigestion, Heartburn, or Stomach Pain. Some people have these symptoms during a heart attack. They may even vomit, Chambers says. Women are more likely to report this type of symptom than men are. Of course, you can have an upset stomach for many reasons that have nothing to do with your heart.

Your Legs Feet And Ankles Are Swollen

This could be a sign that your heart doesnât pump blood as effectively as it should.

When the heart can’t pump fast enough, blood backs up in the veins and causes bloating.

Heart failure can also make it harder for the kidneys to remove extra water and sodium from the body, which can lead to bloating.

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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.

You Get Exhausted Easily

What a heart attack looks like

If you suddenly feel fatigued or winded after doing something you had no problem doing in the past — like climbing the stairs or carrying groceries from the car — make an appointment with your doctor right away.

“These types of significant changes are more important to us than every little ache and pain you might be feeling,” Bufalino says.

Extreme exhaustion or unexplained weakness, sometimes for days at a time, can be a symptom of heart disease, especially for women.

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What Makes The Symptoms Of Heart Attack Unique

Often the health conditions heartburn and heart attack is misunderstood. Knowing the key differences between the chest pain from heart attack and chest pain from indigestion or acid reflux is extremely important.

The pain in chest from indigestion or reflux gets better as soon as you consume an antacid / by drinking water or milk whereas pain from heart attacks will not go away easily. In addition, symptoms such as nausea, sweatiness, breathlessness and heart palpitations usually dont accompany indigestion or reflux. Yet another key sign in heart attacks are repeated pain. It comes with activities like chest tightness while walking up stairs.

Can Women Reduce Their Risk Of Having A Heart Attack

As a woman, your hormones might give you some protection from CHD in your pre-menopause years. Post menopause, your risk rises and continues to rise as you get older. As you get older it is increasingly important to be aware of the risk factors that can affect your risk of developing CHD. The more risk factors you have, the higher your risk. Risk factors include:

  • being overweight
  • not doing enough physical activity.

Identifying and managing risk factors early on could help lower your risk of a heart attack in the future.

We recommend that all women over the age of 40 visit their local GP or nurse for a health check to check their cardiovascular risk. If you’re aged 4074 and living in England, you can ask for an NHS health check. Similar schemes are also available in other parts of the UK.Your doctor should invite you to review your risk every five years, but you can also just make an appointment yourself to check your blood pressure and cholesterol. This check might help to highlight anything that could put you at increased risk of having a heart attack.

If you have a family history of heart or circulatory disease make sure you tell your doctor or nurse. You’re considered to have a family history of heart or circulatory disease if:

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What Do These Early Symptoms Typically Look Like

Dr. Xu says the majority of patients experience somewhat typical symptoms, such as radiating chest pain, heaviness or discomfort, heart palpitations, cold sweats, and shortness of breath. Others — women more so than men — will experience some atypical symptoms as well, which may include fatigue, a general sense of unease, vague discomfort, back or abdominal pain and declining stamina. Both types of symptoms can be experienced months before an actual heart attack occurs.

When Is Chest Pain A Heart Attack

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Many people delay calling 999 when having chest pain as they often think it isnt serious. You should dial 999 immediately if your chest pain:

  • is sudden
  • spreads to you arms, back, neck or jaw
  • feels heavy or tight.

Or if:

  • you become short of breath or start to feel sick.

If your chest pain doesnt match these characteristics and you arent experiencing any other heart attack symptoms, there may be other explanations for your chest pain. These include angina, indigestion or a strained muscle.If you frequently experience unexplained chest pain, book an appointment with your GP as its possible you may have an undiagnosed heart condition.

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How Do Doctors Know What Kind Of Heart Attack Youve Had

You cant predict the outcome of a heart attack by your symptoms or how severe they are. Thats why symptoms that suggest a possible heart attack should never be ignored.

How well you fare after a heart attack depends on how quickly you act, Dr. Campbell says. The sooner you get emergency care, the better the chance you will suffer less permanent damage to your heart.

If you go to the ER with heart-attack symptom, youll be treated right away. Your blood will be examined for any enzymes indicating theres been damage to your hearts muscle. And a noninvasive echocardiogram is performed to see how well your heart is pumping.

Still it may take several hours to determine whether youve had a heart attack and what kind of treatment is needed. That means, if youre not sure what your symptoms mean, the thought of spending several hours in the ER might discourage you from seeking care. Dont let it! Dr. Campbell advises that its much wiser to err on the safe side.

Its better you spend several hours in the ER than learn the damage has been done, and your heart cant be fixed, he says.

Angina And Heart Attacks

Angina is a syndrome caused by the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the heart becoming restricted.

People with angina can experience similar symptoms to a heart attack, but they usually happen during exercise and pass within a few minutes.

However, occasionally, people with angina can have a heart attack. It’s important to recognise the difference between the symptoms of angina and those of a heart attack. The best way to do this is to remember that the symptoms of angina can be controlled with medicine, but symptoms of a heart attack cannot.

If you have angina, you may have been prescribed medicine that improves your symptoms within 5 minutes. If the first dose does not work, a second dose can be taken after 5 minutes, and a third dose after a further 5 minutes.

If the pain persists, despite taking 3 doses of glyceryl trinitrate over 15 minutes, call 999 and ask for an ambulance.

Page last reviewed: 28 November 2019 Next review due: 28 November 2022

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