People die every day because they ignore the signs of a heart attack.  They don't want to "bother" anyone, or they thought the symptoms would just go away.  Here's the deal, though... you never know for sure and it's not worth guessing.  Personally, I'd rather be sent home with a prescription for GasX than be sent home in a box.

First things First:

Okay, so, the most important thing is that you dial 9-1-1 IMMEDIATELY  (no more than 5 minutes) if you have heart attack symptoms.  Time is critical, especially now that they have all these new medications and treatments that will stop some heart attacks and strokes. 

Most heart attacks don't happen the way we see them on TV.   Granted, some are obvious and immediate, but most heart attacks start slow, with only mild discomfort.  That's what makes them so tricky!  Hey, you know when something is just not right.  Don't wait too long if have the following symptoms:

Heart Attack Warning Signs for Men (from the American Medical Assoc.)

  • Chest Discomfort - Take heed if you are feeling uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Other Upper Body Discomfort - You may feel pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of Breath - This could happen with or without the chest discomfort or pain.
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, feeling lightheaded or nauseous

Heart Attack Warning Signs for Women

Cardiovascular disease is the Number 1 cause of death in women and it is the most preventable.  Women experience the same heart attack symptoms as men, most commonly chest pain or discomfort, but women are more likely than men to experience the other common symptoms, particularly shortness or breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain

Women, Respond to these Symptoms!

  • Chest pain - may include back pain and/or deep aching and throbbing in one or both arms
  • Breathlessness and/or inability to catch your breath when waking up
  • Clammy sweating
  • Dizziness -- unexplained lightheadedness and possible blackouts
  • Anxiety -- unusual nervousness, feelings of impending doom
  • Edema -- fluid retention and swelling in the ankles or lower legs
  • Fluttering, rapid heartbeats or palpitations
  • Nausea or gas
  • Feeling of heaviness, such as pressure-like pain between the breasts that may radiate to the left arm or shoulder 

What do I do if I Think I'm Having a Heart Attack?

Don't second guess!  And don't have someone drive you to the hospital if you can help it.  You'll almost always get faster treatment if you call 9-1-1 and let the EMS crew take care of you.  You'll also get faster treatment at the hospital if you arrive by ambulance.  Don't ever drive yourself to the hospital unless you have absolutely no other option.

Difference Between a Heart Attack and Cardiac Arrest

A heart attack is caused by a circulation or blockage problem in the heart whereas cardiac arrest is caused by an electrical problem in the heart.  Sudden cardiac arrest is more frequent in people who have had heart attacks before because their hearts may be damaged and may pump poorly. Damage to the heart muscle can lead to disturbances of the electrical system and in turn can cause dangerously fast heart rhythms that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest. 

Signs of Sudden Cardiac Arrest:

  • Cardiac arrest strikes immediately and without warning
  • The victim is unresponsive (no response to tapping on shoulders)
  • The victim is not breathing normally (no normal breath when you tilt the head up and check for at least five seconds)

What do I do of Someone is Having a Cardiac Arrest?

  • Tell someone to call 9-1-1 and get an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) (if available)
  • You begin CPR immediately (while someone else calls 9-1-1).  Read CPR Myths, Tips and Updates
  • If you are alone with an adult who has these signs of cardiac arrest, call 9-1-1 and get an AED (if one is available) before you begin CPR
  • Use an AED as soon as it arrives

Stroke Warning Signs (from the American Stroke Assoc.)

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

Notice that the word *SUDDEN* appears in every case.  One of the "signs" is that these symptoms happen very quickly.  Like, you're fine one second and not fine the next. 

What do I do if I Think I'm Having a Stroke?

If you or someone you're with has one or more of these signs, immediately call 9-1-1 so an ambulance can be sent.  As with a heart attack, time is the biggest factor in your odds for recovery.  Check the time the symptoms first appeared so you can tell the EMS team.  There is a clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) that, if administered within three hours of the start of symptoms, can reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke.

Stop heart disease and strokes before they happen!  Read Staggering Heart Facts, 5 Ways to Celebrate American Heart Month and Are You At Risk for Heart Disease?.

Do you have something to share that might help someone?  Please reply below!