Warning Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack
(contributions made by Rachel Rabkin Peachman)
An estimated 38,000 women under age 50 have heart attacks each year in the United States. Heart trouble can easily be confused with other ailments,
such as indigestion.
Check out our symptom decoder so you do not miss any warning signs.
Chest pain is not the only sign you have had a heart attack.
Here are 7 symptoms you should know.
(Signs are what you can see, such as someone having difficulty breathing.
Symptoms are what the person tells you, such as "it hurts to breath, or it is hard to take a deep breathe")
*** Tingling Down one or Both Arms or Legs
While this often means you have a pinched nerve or arthritis in your neck,
"it's important to rule out heart problems first," says Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women's Health at NYU Langone Medical Center.
See your doctor if you notice any tingling in your extremities.
*** Nausea and/or Vomiting
You could have more than a bug if your upset stomach comes along with other heart-related symptoms, such as shortness of breath, a cold sweat or
pain in your chest or back.
*** Shortness of Breath and/or a Racing Heart
It can be really difficult to differentiate between a panic attack and a heart attack, since they share these symptoms.
A few tells: Panic attacks are often triggered by a stressful event. Other signs
can include trembling, intense terror and an overwhelming sense of doom.
Panic attacks also typically come on suddenly and should pass within five minutes or so, while women's heart-attack symptoms tend to start slowly and linger. The only way to be sure is to get to the ER.
*** Jaw Pain
Your jaw could hurt if you are having a heart attack, because the nerves attached to the jaw lie close to ones that come out of your heart. If the pain is constant, you probably have a dental problem; if it pops up intermittently and gets worse when you exert yourself, it is more likely to be heart-related.
*** Dizziness and/ or Light-Headedness
Feeling faint for no obvious reason (like doing a tough workout or being dehydrated) could mean that not enough blood is getting to the heart, especially if you are also suffering from shortness of breath and a cold sweat.
*** Discomfort or Burning in the Chest, Back or Under Arm area
Women often describe a heart attack as tightness, heaviness, pressure or
a squeezing sensation. The pain does not have to be severe or sudden;
it could come and go for weeks, so it is often mistaken for indigestion or heartburn. If it does not come on shortly after a meal, if you do not normally have indigestion or if you are also experiencing symptoms such as nausea,
it needs to be checked promptly by a doctor.
*** Extreme Fatigue
If you are unable to walk a block comfortably or if you feel like you have to stop and rest while going about your daily activities, it could be a sign that blood is not getting to the heart fast enough.
How Heart Attacks Happen
A heart attack is most often triggered by a buildup of fatty deposits called plaque in our coronary arteries. When that plaque thickens and hardens, you develop atherosclerosis—a common heart disease that causes attacks.
(Other forms of heart disease include arrhythmia and congenital issues.) Atherosclerosis can block blood flow, and therefore oxygen, to the heart muscle and lead to a heart attack.
Some of the risk factors for heart disease are family history, elevated blood pressure and/or cholesterol, obesity, smoking, high stress levels and having a sedentary lifestyle (although heart attacks can occur without you being predisposed to them).
Less common causes include a blood clot or a blood-vessel tear in the heart (known as a spontaneous coronary artery dissection, a rare condition that is most prevalent in those age 30 to 50).
Heart Attacks are not the same as Cardiac Arrest
A Heart Attackis a circulatory issue, where not enough oxygenated blood
is getting through the blood vessels. Since the vital organs rely on the oxygen
to stay alive, organ tissue can start to die - which is what happens in the heart.
Cardiac Arrestis an electrical issue. The electrical impulses in the heart do not function properly causing the heart to stop pumping oxygenated blood out of the heart. This is why there is no longer a pulse.
A Heart Attack does not always lead to cardiac arrest.
Cardiac Arrest is not always preceded by a heart attack.
In a Heart Attack, the heart muscle is still working.
In Cardiac Arrest, the heart muscle is not working.
You cannot die from a Heart Attack!
(Remember, the heart is still working)
You can die from Cardiac Arrest.
(The heart has stop functioning properly)
So if you experience any of the signs and symptoms described here, go see your doctor and find out whether you are having a heart problem or something else.
It is always better to be safe than sorry.