A heart attack occurs when heart disease has reached the point that blood flow to the heart is blocked. Symptoms of a heart attack may be immediate and intense although more often than not the symptoms start slowly and persist for hours, days or weeks. The sooner heart disease is diagnosed and treated the better the prognosis.
- Chest pain (angina) – a sense of discomfort or squeezing in your chest that lasts for anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.
- Shortness of breath – experienced difficulty catching your breath after moderate physical exertion, like walking up a flight of stairs.
- Unexplained pain in your upper torso, neck, and jaw and changes in your extremities such as pain, swelling, tingling, numbness, coldness, and weakness.
- Extreme fatigue.
- An irregular heartbeat that is faster than or slower than usual.
- Dizziness or fainting.
General heart attack symptoms
- 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
- Nausea or vomiting
- Lightheadedness or fainting
- Feeling of “impending doom”
- Severe anxiety or confusion
There are similarities and differences between the symptoms of heart attacks in men and women. There are significant differences between the hearts of men and women. A woman’s heart, for example, is smaller and the walls diving the chambers are thinner. It also pumps faster than a man’s heart but ejects about 10% less blood with each squeeze.
When a woman is stressed, her pulse rate rises and her heart ejects more blood. Conversely, when a man is stressed, the arteries of his heart constrict, raising his blood pressure. These and more contribute to the subtle differences between the symptoms of a heart attack in men and women.
Heart attacks in women are also deadlier which is why it’s important to be clear about how heart attacks present in both men and women. Delays in recognizing symptoms of heart attacks in women and delays in seeking treatment contribute to the higher mortality rates experienced by women.
Symptoms of a heart attack in men
- Standard chest pain/pressure that feels like “an elephant” is sitting on your chest with a squeezing sensation that may come and go or remain constant and intense
- Upper body pain or discomfort, including arms, left shoulder, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Stomach discomfort that feels like indigestion
- Shortness of breath, which may leave you feeling like you can’t get enough air, even when you’re resting
- Dizziness or feeling like you’re going to pass out
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
Symptoms of a heart attack in women
- Unusual fatigue lasting for several days or sudden severe fatigue
- Sleep disturbances
- Shortness of breath
- Indigestion or gas-like pain
- Upper back, shoulder or throat pain
- Jaw pain or pain that spreads up to your jaw
- Pressure or pain in the centre of your chest may spread to your arm
For women over the age of 50 other symptoms include:
- Severe chest pain
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
Treatment post-heart attacks
Usually includes a variety of surgical procedures to relieve pain and prevent another heart attack from occurring. Surgical procedures are used to open up the blocked artery, reroute blood around the blockage, fix any leaky valves with valve replacement therapy, inserting pacemakers and stents, or in really severe situations a heart transplant. The surgical procedure is dependent on the specific problem.
Ways of preventing heart disease
Quit smoking – you cut your risk of coronary heart disease by 50% when you quit smoking
Start an exercise program – just walking 30 minutes a day can lower your risk for heart attack and stroke
Eat a healthy diet – lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains. 10 heart-friendly foods to add to your diet
Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to learn your personal risk for heart disease and ways of prevention.
If you suspect you or someone close to you may be having a heart attack, seek immediate medical care. Even if you’re wrong, better safe than sorry, right?
Check out Different types of heart disease and managing them and Health: What Should You Do to Keep Your Heart Healthy?
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