Silent Heart Attacks - Symptoms & Risk Factors of Silent Ischemia
Heart Attack Symptoms
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How do you know if you're having a heart attack — is it more than just chest pain?
— Carl, Washington
Carl, you've asked an important question, because yes, a heart attack often does cause more than chest pain. In fact, sometimes the symptoms can be quite subtle and not even include chest pain.
You might assume that you'd know if you were having a heart attack, but the fact is, many people don't. One problem is denial. Even when symptoms of a heart attack are classic — chest pain and tightness in the chest — it is often our instinct to deny the worst and assume we are merely having indigestion.
As your question suggests, not all heart attacks conform to the stereotype of a man clutching his chest in pain. In fact, nearly half the time, it's not a man whose heart is under assault — it's a woman. And women often experience heart attacks a bit differently than men.
Here are some important things to be aware of:
- Chest pain is common for both sexes.It can feel like heaviness, burning, or squeezing in the center of the chest. Some people describe the discomfort in terms of tightness or pressure, which may radiate from the chest to either the arm, the jaw, neck, or back. Keep in mind that if you are having a heart attack you will feel chest pain thatpersists. If you experience discomfort in your chest that comes on suddenly and lasts for just a few seconds, it's extremely unlikely that a heart attack is the cause. You may have heartburn or a little gas pocket in your esophagus. Pain worth your attention comes on gradually and lasts at least several minutes.
- Less-common symptomsfor both sexes include breaking out in a cold sweat, general weakness, nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness and/or lightheadedness, and discomfort or pain between the shoulder blades. I've even had heart attack patients who first felt a pain in their elbow and even in a tooth.
- Women are more likely than men to complain of the less-common symptomslisted above, as well as jaw and back pain, unusual fatigue, and trouble sleeping due to the pain. They may also have a sense that something is terribly wrong or feel an impending sense of doom. Because these are not necessarily the typical heart attack symptoms, and women still often perceive themselves as being less likely to experience a heart attack than men, they are slower to seek medical attention and are therefore at greater risk of dying from a heart attack than men.
- Pay attention to early symptoms.Keep in mind that brief episodes of chest pain, breathlessness, and/or discomfort or pain between the shoulder blades may occur weeks before a heart attack, especially during exertion. You may first notice symptoms while exercising or walking up a flight of steps, or even during sex, if that's the most demanding physical activity you engage in. These symptoms could be angina, brief periods when the blood flow is temporarily cut off from a portion of the heart.Don't ignore them.
- Early treatment counts.There's no doubt that symptoms for heart attacks can be confusing and that the great majority of chest pains do not signal the presence of a heart problem. However, it's this confusion about what's wrong that often leads people to waste precious time during an actual attack. If you think for even a moment that you're having a heart attack, remember,every minute counts. The earlier you get treatment, the better your chances of survival. We have great treatments for interrupting a heart attack, but these treatments can only be applied to patients who seek medical attention in time.
Video: Heart Attack Warning Signs
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