Do you know the signs that could mean that you’re having a heart attack? Heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction, is the leading cause of death for individuals over 40 years of age. The good news…there are excellent treatment options for heart attacks. These treatments work best if they are given right after symptoms appear. If you act fast, you can save your life and limit damage to your heart. It is therefore important to know the warning signs.
A heart attack happens when the heart is deprived of oxygen. When the heart is deprived of oxygen, even for a few minutes, the cells of the heart muscle begin to die. The chest pain that people usually report is the body’s way of saying it needs help.
Heart Attack Sign #1 – Chest Pain
This is the most common sign of a heart attack that men report. Often, the chest discomfort is described as a pressure, tightness or heaviness. The discomfort usually begins in the centre of the chest and can radiate to other areas of the body. Additionally, the chest pain may come and go or it may be continuous. If you are experiencing chest pain, especially if it persists, call 911 immediately. You may be having a heart attack and the sooner you receive treatment, the better your chance of survival.
Heart Attack Sign #2 – Upper Body Discomfort
While the most common sign of a heart attack is chest pain, pain does not always start there. Sometimes, a person having a heart attack may complain of pain in one or both arms, the neck, jaw or even the stomach. Women that are having a heart attack are more likely to experience pain in the jaw or back compared to men. These signs may signal a heart attack or another health problem. It is important to call 911 if these symptoms come on suddenly or if they are seen with another sign of a heart attack.
Heart Attack Sign #3 – Difficulty breathing (shortness of breath)
If you are short of breath when you aren’t exerting yourself, this is a red flag. Sit or lie down and see if the symptoms dissipate. If the shortness of breath lasts longer than two minutes, call 911.
Heart Attack Sign #4 – Nausea, Sweating, Clamminess
These signs of a heart attack are much more subtle and are reported more in women who are suffering a heart attack. If these symptoms appear suddenly or are seen with another warning sign of a heart attack, call 911.
Heart Attack Sign #5 – Extreme fatigue (tiredness)
Like nausea, sweating and clamminess, this is another subtle sign that you could be having a heart attack. While you may be experiencing this sign as the result of another health problem, if it appears suddenly or with another symptom, call 911.
Risk Factors for Heart Attack
There are many risk factors for heart attack, some that are controllable and others that are not. Uncontrollable risk factors include: male sex, older age, family history of heart disease, race (African Americans, American Indians, and Mexicans are more likely to have heart disease than Caucasians). Controllable risk factors are factors that can be modified and can help with heart attack prevention include: smoking, high HDL (“good”) cholesterol and low LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, uncontrolled diabetes, high C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation), and high stress levels.
Heart Attack Prevention
While medicine is advancing and has developed effective treatments for heart attacks, heart attack prevention is the best thing you can do for your health. Heart attack prevention begins with living a healthy lifestyle. This includes:
- Quitting smoking
- Managing your cholesterol levels by eating a healthy diet that is low in fat and cholesterol. This will help to lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease. Medications are sometimes needed to control cholesterol levels.
- Exercising regularly – this will help to raise your “good” cholesterol levels and decrease your “bad” cholesterol levels. Regular exercise will also decrease your risk of heart disease.
- Managing your stress levels (high stress levels can contribute to heart disease)
- Managing your blood pressure (high blood pressure is a form of heart disease)
- Managing your blood sugar levels if you are diabetic
- Managing your weight – excess weight puts strain on your heart. It can also worsen other heart disease risk factors including diabetes, high cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure. Exercising and eating right will help control your weight and will reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Having regular check-ups with your doctor to monitor for risk factors, such as heart disease.
Using the steps above for heart attack prevention will help to lower your chance of suffering a heart attack.
It is important to implement changes to your life for heart attack prevention. However, it is so important to know the signs that could mean you are suffering a heart attack. Effective treatment does exist, but it is absolutely necessary to get it as soon as the symptoms appear or your heart attack could be fatal.