Predicting a heart attack before it happens can be difficult. Almost two-thirds of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). A substantial number of patients will have some symptoms that, had they paid attention to them or sought an outpatient evaluation, might have led to a different outcome.
A heart attack can occur when the flow of blood and oxygen to a section of the heart becomes blocked. The heart muscle begins to die from the lack of oxygen. If the blood flow isn’t quickly restored, that area of the heart can die. If medical intervention does not immediately occur, the entire heart can die, leading, of course, to death.
One of the first myths that must be addressed is that women are more likely to have a heart attack than men. Even though women may experience some different heart attack symptoms than men, chest pain is still the number-one warning sign for both sexes. It’s important to recognize that, when it comes to heart attacks, we’re way more alike than we are different.
The main symptom for men and women is some type of chest discomfort, pain, pressure, burning. About 90 percent-plus of men and women have that, if asked. The pain could be sharp, dull or the sensation that an elephant is sitting on your chest.
Many people are familiar with the “Hollywood heart attack” where a middle-aged man clutches his chest and falls over dead. In reality, symptoms can come and go. Some people who simply report not feeling well or feeling fatigued go on to have a heart attack hours later. Sometimes the chest pain is there but the nausea is much more prominent, so people may mistake the symptoms for the flu.
So, how can you tell what’s really going on with your heart? The key is to know your risk factors.
If you’re generally healthy and you wake up with what you think is the flu, you probably have the flu. But if you’re obese, sedentary, have high blood pressure and a family history of heart disease, you have to take your symptoms more seriously.
Here are some warning signs to watch for if you are concerned about the possibility of having a heart attack.
One early sign of a heart attack is extreme fatigue. Of course, fatigue is a normal feeling after engaging in physical activities or experiencing a long day. However, if you are constantly feeling fatigued and tired, you may need to schedule a check-up with your doctor to monitor the health of your heart. It is not natural to get enough sleep, eat well, and not exhaust yourself physically, but still feel exhausted.
Another warning sign of a heart attack is a disturbance in your sleep habits. Your subconscious mind may be telling you that something is wrong. You may wake frequently, need to use the bathroom frequently during the night, or experience extreme thirst during the night. If you do not have a logical explanation for these sleep disturbances, see your doctor.
Shortness of breath
Experiencing shortness of breath can be a key warning sign that you are having heart issues. When your heart does not get enough oxygen, you can feel short of breath.
Another early warning sign of a heart attack is indigestion. It is not normal to always have a growling stomach. However, certain spicy and irritating foods can normally cause indigestion.
See your physician if you experience increased levels of anxiety that do not have a ready explanation.
Weak or heavy arms
When your heart does not receive sufficient oxygen to function, it can send impulses to your spine. When this happens, the nerves that are interconnected between your heart, spine and arms send impulses that cause pain in your arms. If you experience numbness in your arm, you may be having a heart attack.
If anything seems strange; if in your gut, you feel like something is not right; if you feel some sense of doom; if you feel like you’ve had a sense of indigestion or chest discomfort, trouble breathing or being lightheaded and it’s not normal for you, it’s persisting, it’s a little out of character… go see your doctor. Don’t wait to get help if you experience any of these heart attack warning signs.
Although some heart attacks are sudden and intense, most start slowly with mild pain or discomfort. Pay attention to your body and call 911 — it’s almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment.
The information above is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Glenn Ellis is a health advocacy communications specialist. For more health information, visit www.glennellis.com.