Chest Pain And Heart Attack Symptoms
Chest pain is only one of the possible signs of an impending heart attack. If you notice one or more of the signs below in yourself or someone else, call 911 or your local emergency number right away.
Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, burning, tightness, or pain in the center of the chest
Pain, numbness, pinching, prickling, or other uncomfortable sensations in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
Shortness of breath
Heat/flushing or a cold sweat
Sudden heaviness, weakness, or aching in one or both arms
I Thought I Was Just Having A Panic Attack
“I was just 21 years old and a senior in college when I had a heart attack. I was at my apartment with my roommates, getting ready to go to soccer practice when I started having what I thought was anxiety. My mother had just died six weeks earlier , and I was still very much grieving her loss.
“Every time I took a breath, my chest would hurt when I exhaled. After a few minutes, the pain in my chest increased until it felt like someone was both squeezing and stabbing my heart. It wasnt the worst pain in my life, but it was extremely uncomfortable. I felt faint and lightheaded. I was cold, but I was sweating and nauseous too.
“But the weirdest part was that my wrists felt numbalmost like my arms were asleep, but the feeling was focused around my wrists. It didnt matter how I sat, laid, or stood, the pain and the weird feelings wouldnt go away. Thats when I knew something was really wrong.
“I went to the hospital where doctors discovered a blood clot partially blocking one of my arteries, which had caused a heart attack. They were able to break up the clot with medication, so I didnt need surgery.
“Today Im doing great and I only have two restrictions: I am no longer allowed to participate in contact sports to prevent clot movement or formation from injury, and I’m supposed to keep my heart rate below 170 beats per minute as a precaution not to strain my heart.
Molly Schroeder, 28, volunteer for the American Heart Associations Go Red For Women “Real Women“ campaign
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.
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Heart Attack Warning Signs And Symptoms: Digestive Problems
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.
Cardiac Arrest Vs Heart Attack
Sometimes there is confusion between the terms “cardiac arrest” and “heart attack.” A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, is damage to the heart muscle that occurs due to reduced blood flow to the heart muscle, depriving the heart muscle of the oxygen it needs to function properly.
Cardiac arrest means that the heart stops beating and death is imminent. A heart attack, if severe, can lead to cardiac arrest, and this is what occurs when a heart attack is fatal. However, other conditions, such as serious arrhythmias or shock, can also cause cardiac arrest.
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Whatto Do If You Notice Symptoms
Women often say theynoticed some of these three warning signs weeks or a monthbefore a heart attack.
The sooner you report aproblem, the better the chances are of catching an issue before it becomes afull-blown heart attack. If you experience any of these symptoms, take note andvisit your doctor as quickly as possible.
Waiting For An Ambulance
If you have had a heart attack, it’s important that you rest while you wait for an ambulance, to avoid unnecessary strain on your heart.
If aspirin is available and you are not allergic to it, slowly chew and then swallow an adult-size tablet while you wait for the ambulance.
Aspirin helps to thin your blood and improve blood flow to your heart.
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What Are Other Causes Of Jaw Pain
Most causes of jaw pain are not as serious as a heart attack. Some of the following causes are due to problems with the jaw joint itself:
of the jaw, including and
Dental problems, such as a tooth cavity, infected tooth , gum disease , or tooth grinding
, a long-lasting pain disorder that causes widespread and tender spots in the jaw and other body areas
Temporomandibular disorders , which cause jaw and limit jaw movement
Jaw muscle stress or strain, which can be caused by overextending your jaw during a dental procedure or while yawning
- Myofascial pain syndrome, a chronic form of muscle pain in the jaw and other areas of the body centered on sensitive points in your muscles
- Giant cell arteritis , a serious autoimmune inflammatory condition that, if untreated, can lead to blindness and other serious complications.
I Thought I Had The Flu
Even though heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States, women often chalk up the symptoms to less life-threatening conditions like acid reflux, the flu or normal aging.
They do this because they are scared and because they put their families first, Goldberg said. There are still many women who are shocked that they could be having a heart attack.
A heart attack strikes someone about every 43 seconds. It occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely. This happens because the arteries that supply the heart with blood can slowly narrow from a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances .
Many women think the signs of a heart attack are unmistakable the image of the elephant comes to mind but in fact they can be subtler and sometimes confusing.
You could feel so short of breath, as though you ran a marathon, but you haven’t made a move, Goldberg said.
Some women experiencing a heart attack describe upper back pressure that feels like squeezing or a rope being tied around them, Goldberg said. Dizziness, lightheadedness or actually fainting are other symptoms to look for.
Many women I see take an aspirin if they think they are having a heart attack and never call 911, Goldberg said. But if they think about taking an aspirin for their heart attack, they should also call 911.
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When Should I Call My Doctor Or 911
Make an appointment to see your doctor if you have had ongoing mild to moderate jaw pain or stiffness.
It is common for people having a heart attack to report feelings of or panic, an unclear sense of uneasiness, or deep sense of dread or doom. If you have these feelings with , or if your jaw pain starts suddenly, is severe, or happens with any of the following symptoms, :
Discomfort in your chest, such as pain, squeezing, or a feeling of something heavy on your chest
Abdominal or stomach pain, which may include feeling queasy or sick to your stomach or throwing up
Recognizing A Heart Attack
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When Chest Pains Are Serious
Unlike an achy knee or crabby lower back, chest pain isn’t something to shrug off until tomorrow. It also isn’t something to diagnose at home. Don’t play doctor go see one, fast, if you are worried about pain or discomfort in your chest, upper back, left arm, or jaw or suddenly faint or develop a cold sweat, nausea, or vomiting. Call 911 or your local emergency number to summon an emergency medical crew. It will whisk you to the hospital in a vehicle full of equipment that can start the diagnosis and keep you stable if your heart really is in trouble.
There are oh-so-many reasons to delay calling for help.
- I’m too young .
- I’m in great shape .
- I have a family to take care of .
- I don’t want to bother anyone .
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.
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But Can A Heart Attack Cause Pain Only In The Jaw
Typical symptoms of a heart attack include discomfort in the chest, excessive sweating, nausea, weakness and shortness of breath, says Nichole M. Polin, MD, FACC, Director, Cardio-Oncology Clinic, Ochsner Health System.
The chest discomfort can often radiate to the jaw or left arm, continues Dr. Polin.
It can also radiate to the back and/or abdomen.
Dr. Polin adds, Jaw pain alone can be a presenting symptom of a heart attack, especially in women, as women more often have atypical presentations of a heart attack than men.
Other causes of jaw pain, however, need to be kept in mind such as orthodontic or periodontic disease, TMJ disease and reflux.
In the case of TMJ disorder, the patient might also have pain when opening the mouth, chewing or clenching down on their bite.
Regular dental checkups will help a person stay on top of any developing TMJ disorder, so that if down the road, jaw pain occurs that person will know that its probably not from a TMJ problem.
Also keep in mind that just because a person has a benign condition thats causing new-onset jaw pain doesnt rule out the possibility that a heart problem is also contributing to some of that mandibular pain even if there are no other symptoms.
When To Call 911
Heartburn, breathlessness and other subtle symptomsarent always heart attacks. How can you tell a minor ailment from a heartattack?
Its challenging, admits Dr. Menon. And thats abig reason why people dont get to the doctor sooner when theyre having aheart attack.
In general, call 911 if:
- Symptoms occur suddenly and persist for more than five to 10 minutes.
- Shortness of breath and chest discomfort occur while youre at rest.
- You develop symptoms and are a middle-aged or older adult and have a history of smoking, are diabetic or have a strong family history of heart disease. Although premenopausal women are usually protected from heart attacks, younger women who smoke, have diabetes or have ovarian dysfunction also are vulnerable.
It will take a clinical evaluation along with blood tests and an electrocardiogram to definitively diagnose a heart attack, says Dr. Menon.
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The Three Most Common Causes Of Noncardiac Chest Pain
I Felt Like I Had Awful Heartburn
“I had just finished teaching three high-intensity classes, and I felt a pain in my chest, but I brushed it off as heartburn. Then, as I was walking up the stairs at my gym for a meeting, I suddenly felt extremely fatiguedso much so that I didn’t think I’d be able to make it the rest of the way.
“Seconds later, I felt hot and sweat started rolling off of me, like I had just gotten out of a sauna. I also suddenly wasn’t able to catch my breath, I felt nauseous, I had cramping in my hands, and my chest pain was getting worse and worse.
“I kept saying I was fine, but my coworker knew better, so she called 911. Paramedics did an EKG and immediately threw me in the ambulance and rushed me to the hospital.
“Within an hour, I had an angiogram to remove a clot that had blocked my left anterior descending artery 100 percent. The second it was out, I felt immediate relief. My cardiologists best guess was that stress or exercise, or a combination of the two, caused a tear in my artery, which forced the blood to clot. I found out later that the majority of people with this same blockage die.
“I feel so fortunate to be able to lead my healthy lifestyle today, but its always in the back of my mind. Now I have regular checkups for my arteries and am careful not to overdo it with intense exercise. The experience has just made me so thankful for every day I have!”
Shannon Schleicher, 39, a personal trainer and fitness coach for Life Time Athletic
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What Is Angina
Angina is a symptom of heart disease. Angina happens when there is not enough blood flow to the heart muscle. This is often a result of narrowed blood vessels, usually caused by hardening of the arteries .
Angina can be dangerous. So it is important to pay attention to your symptoms, know what is typical for you, learn how to control it, and understand when you need to get treatment.
What Not To Do
If you feel heart attack symptoms:
- Donât delay getting help. “Women generally wait longer than men before going to the emergency room,” says Rita F. Redberg, MD, MSc, FACC, director of Women’s Cardiovascular Services for the UCSF Division of Cardiology in San Francisco. Even if you think your symptoms arenât that bad or will pass, the stakes are too high.
- Don’t drive yourself to the hospital. You need an ambulance. If you drive, you could have a wreck on the way and possibly hurt yourself or someone else.
- Donât have a friend or relative drive you, either. You may not get there fast enough.
- Donât dismiss what you feel. “Don’t worry about feeling silly if you’re wrong,” Goldberg says. You have to get it checked out right away.
“People don’t want to spend hours in an emergency room if it isn’t a heart attack,” Bairey Merz says. “But women are actually good at deciding what is typical for themselves and when to seek health care.”
Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director, Joan H. Tisch Center for Womenâs Health, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York.
C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD, FACC, FAHA, director, Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center director, Preventive Cardiac Center professor of medicine, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles.
Rita F. Redberg, MD, MSc, FACC, director, Women’s Cardiovascular Services, UCSF division of cardiology professor of medicine, UCSF School of Medicine, San Francisco editor, JAMA Internal Medicine.
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Catch The Signs Early
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 |