Written by: Pooja Kasarapu
Medically reviewed by: Robert Philibert MD PhD
The CDC reports that in the United States, someone suffers from a heart attack every 40 seconds. In fact, by the time you finish reading this article, there will be several new cases of heart attacks in the country. Heart attacks affect nearly 805,000 Americans a year. But many of these heart attacks are potentially preventable. The solution can begin with ourselves. Each of us can play a major role in reducing our probability of experiencing a heart attack. Recognizing warning signs of an imminent heart attack is crucial in ensuring that you are able to access the quality care at the right time. One of the reasons that heart attacks are able to cause so much damage is because the damage they cause is time sensitive and people often delay seeking treatment. Every minute counts when treating a heart attack. Keep reading to learn ways you can act quickly in case you or someone you know is suffering from a heart attack.
What is a heart attack?
Heart attack is a layperson’s term for the condition called myocardial infarction. These events occur when parts of the heart are deprived of oxygen-rich blood. As a result, the heart muscle is damaged or even dies.
What causes a heart attack?
The cause is normally plaque that builds up in the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart. Plaques can build up in these vessels and restrict blood flow to the heart. In times of exertion, this narrowing may prevent delivery of sufficient oxygen to the heart. Spasms, which are acute muscular constrictions, of coronary arteries can also blockage. These spasms can be caused by the use of illegal drugs, such as cocaine. Illegal drugs are capable of inducing other effects. For example, at high doses, amphetamines can increase blood pressure while cocaine can both raise blood pressure and stiffen the arteries. However, heart attacks can arise from other causes. If the entire body is deprived of oxygen, such as in cases of respiratory distress caused by lung disease, the high demand of the heart for oxygen makes a heart attack a likely outcome.
What are the warning signs/symptoms of a heart attack?
- Chest pain is the first and foremost important warning sign in detecting a heart attack. Chest pain is almost always a cause for concern, especially if you are at risk for myocardial infarction. It may be described as a moderate to severe pain, tightness, heaviness or squeezing in the chest and can last for several minutes. Typically, this pain is associated with exertion and relieved by rest.
- Shortness of breath is also another indicator. This normally accompanies the chest pain but could also develop prior to the onset of the chest pain.
- Moderate to severe pains in the jaw, back, neck and shoulders are causes for concern. This discomfort may present as a pressure, ache or tightness.
- Nausea, lightheadedness and dizziness.
Not everyone experiences the same warning signs/symptoms
It is important to note that not every individual will experience the same set of symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, the more symptoms that someone presents with, the more likely they are to suffer from a heart attack. The most important telltale sign is moderate to severe chest pain.
The onset of symptoms can also vary. Someone may begin experiencing symptoms as early as several weeks prior to their heart attack. Other instances may include noticing symptoms days or hours prior to the heart attack. However, in some instances, there are no warning signs or symptoms.
There is also a disparity between men and women regarding the specific symptoms they experience. Unfortunately, women often do not experience the classical set of symptoms that suggest they are about to experience a heart attack. Moderate to severe chest pain, which is a key indicator, is not always present. The American Heart Association states that, instead, pain may be felt in the lower chest or upper abdomen. Fainting, extreme fatigue and indigestion may also be symptoms of a heart attack. However, these symptoms do not always imply that someone is suffering from myocardial infarction. For example, if someone was suffering from indigestion and pain in the abdomen, they may conclude they have simply eaten something odd. Still, in some cases could also represent a pending heart attack.
It is important to acknowledge differences between men and women and that one-size does not fit all when it comes to assessing risk for heart attacks. When in doubt, immediately seek professional advice. It is also important to raise awareness among others about the issue as it could help save lives. Many if not most heart attacks take place outside of an acute healthcare setting, which means we need to stay vigilant and informed of heart attack warning signs so we can take timely action.
Unfortunately, sometimes heart attacks occur completely unnoticed. Such heart attacks are called silent heart attacks. For unclear reasons, they do not present with the typical symptoms or may not show any symptoms at all. Therefore, it is important to routinely see a healthcare provider for more advanced objective methods of detecting risk.
Keeping an eye out for symptoms is important. But understanding your risk early on regardless of symptoms can help you take critical measures to avoid a heart attack before it is too late! Our lifestyle and environment play a large role in our risk for a heart attack. So choose to maintain a balanced diet, exercise and make good lifestyle choices. But you won’t know your risk for sure until you get tested, which is why Cardio Diagnostics has developed a highly sensitive clinical test that you can complete from the comfort and privacy of your home to better understand your three-year risk for a heart attack. Prevention is truly the best medicine and we believe that you deserve the best in risk assessment available. Head on over to our website for more information!
- “Warning Signs & Symptoms of Heart Attack and Stroke” Go Red for Women, https://www.goredforwomen.org/en/about-heart-disease-in-women/signs-and-symptoms-in-women
- “Symptoms of a Heart Attack in Women vs Men” Go Red For Women, https://www.goredforwomen.org/en/about-heart-disease-in-women/signs-and-symptoms-in-women/symptoms-of-a-heart-attack
- “Women: Don’t Ignore These 3 Subtle Heart Attack Symptoms” Cleveland Clinic, October 2019, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/women-dont-ignore-3-subtle-heart-attack-symptoms/
- “Heart Attack Symptoms in Women” American Heart Association, https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/warning-signs-of-a-heart-attack/heart-attack-symptoms-in-women
- “Heart Attack Symptoms, Risk, and Recovery” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/heart_attack.htm
- “Heart Attack” Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-attack/symptoms-causes/syc-20373106#:~:text=A%20heart%20attack%20occurs%20when,arteries%2C%20causing%20a%20heart%20attack.
- “Illegal Drugs and Heart Disease,” American Heart Association, https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/what-is-cardiovascular-disease/illegal-drugs-and-heart-disease#:~:text=Most%20illegal%20drugs%20can%20have,blood%20vessels%20and%20heart%20valves.
- Mankad, Rekha. “Silent Heart Attack: What are the Risks?” Mayo Clinic, Apr 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-attack/expert-answers/silent-heart-attack/faq-20057777#:~:text=A%20silent%20heart%20attack%20is,associated%20with%20a%20heart%20attack.