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Heart Attack - Early Signs

After 22 years as an RN, I now write about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise, treatment, and lifestyle are important.

heart-attack-early-signs

Heart Attack Statistics

Most people have some idea of what a heart attack (myocardial infarction) is, but you may not know exactly what is happening physically to the body. Since heart attacks are the leading cause of death in the USA with 735,000 people dying annually, it is a good idea to know the symptoms.

Globally, 18.6 million people died of heart attacks in 2019. Over 75% of these deaths occur in low to middle income countries.

Exactly What Is A Heart Attack

The heart has four chambers and an electrical system. In a normal heart the top two chambers (atriums) contract, and an electric current is sent to the bottom two chambers (ventricles) signaling them to contract. The contraction of the left ventricle sends blood throughout the arteries of the body and the right ventricle sends blood to the lungs.

Plaque (atherosclerosis) builds up in the arteries of the heart due to fat, cholesterol and other substances in one or more arteries of the heart, which lessens or stops blood flow in the heart arteries. Then, an electrical abnormality (ventricular fibrillation) can occur, which causes death of some of the heart muscle and often the individual’s death.

Ventricular fibrillation (cardiac arrest) is a lethal heart rhythm that may occur with a heart attack. The heart chambers quiver and do not contract. If you can reach the emergency room before this occurs, your prognosis is excellent.

Ventricular fibrillation

Ventricular fibrillation

Typical Signs of a Major Heart Attack

A major heart attack will have very noticeable symptoms. When the discomfort is very noticeable it is time to call 911 and take an aspirin. If you have nitroglycerin, take it too.

Symptoms of a major heart attack include:

  • Pressure, tightness, pain, and a squeezing sensation to your chest and/or arms
  • Pain may also be in your jaw, back or neck
  • ‘Elephant sitting on chest’ sensation in a major attack
  • Indigestion, heartburn, nausea or abdominal pain.
  • Very short of breath
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Lightheadedness and sudden dizziness
  • Overwhelming sense of doom

Arriving at an emergency room quickly increases your prognosis and saves the life of 90% of the patients. The remaining 10% of heart attack attack victims die later due to major heart muscle damage. Always err on the side of caution and call 911. Driving yourself to the hospital can put you and other people on the road at risk.

How to Know if You're Having a Heart Attack

What is a Silent Heart Attack?

It is possible to have a silent heart attack, which is a heart attack that does a small amount of damage to the heart muscle. This would most likely happen if there was a small blood clot or some plaque in a smaller artery. Particular characteristic markings will show up on an electrocardiogram (EKG) if you have a silent heart attack.

Possible symptoms of a silent heart attack include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting, indigestion or other gastrointestinal distress
  • Severe fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Pressure in the upper back
  • Lightheadedness, fainting

People sometimes ignore these symptoms as there could be other causes for these symptoms. If you have a few of these symptoms the best course of action would be to see your doctor.

One hospital record review found that 16% of individuals dying of a heart attack had been hospitalized within the previous 28 days for another problem. This tells us that some of these heart attack symptoms are not being considered, even by the doctors.

heart-attack-early-signs

Heart Disease Risk Factors

It is good to be aware of the risk factors for heart disease and avoid them if at all possible. Obviously you cannot change a genetic component or age, but you can change exercise habits, your diet and get help from your doctor to quit smoking. Smoking or living with second hand smoke is a major risk factor.

Other risk factors include:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated cholesterol or triglycerides
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Stress - in particular your response to stress
  • Age as men over 45 years and women over 55 years are at higher risk
  • Illicit drug use - specially stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamines
  • Strong family history of heart disease
  • Autoimmune diseases - such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus

Another risk factor is metabolic syndrome. This reflects the combined risk factors of obesity, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure. Metabolic syndrome makes it twice as likely you will suffer from heart disease. The more risk factors you have the higher your risk of a heart attack.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack Can Vary

Heart attack symptoms may vary from one person to another. The pain may be severe or absent. It may be sudden or begin mildly over days or weeks. Not all people who have heart attacks have the same symptoms or the same severity of symptoms.

Women usually experience pain, but they often have more shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and their pain may be in their back or sometimes in the jaw.

Some people have recurrent chest discomfort or pain (called angina), which will occur with exercise or some type of exertion. It is relieved with rest. Angina is caused by a temporary decrease in blood flow to the heart.

If you have chest pain or pressure that is not relieved with rest, act immediately to get help. Sometimes people wait too long as they do not recognize the urgency of the situation. Please do not make that mistake.

Heart Attack in Women

Treatment for Heart Disease

There are clot dissolving medications if you come to the emergency room with a heart attack. These drugs dissolve the clot and often stop any heart damage, but they must be given soon after the heart attack begins.

Coronary angiogram and and a coronary balloon angioplasty are effective in diagnosing and treating a blood clot, which will prevent a heart attack. They open blockages to restore full circulation.

In Summary

I have an autoimmune disease (lupus) and a family history of heart disease, although I never smoked. I ate pretty healthy and exercised, but when I went for a treadmill test at age 55 I was not allowed to leave the hospital. My EKG was severely abnormal, and the next morning I had two stents placed in one of my arteries.

I never had symptoms! I did not have disease in any other arteries either. The doctors stated they thought my heart disease was due to the medications I had received for systemic lupus. I probably would have had a major heart attack if this had not been discovered.

Heart attacks are a serious topic as it claims so many lives around the world. It is important to see your doctor regularly, and report any symptoms to your doctor.

References

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2021 Pamela Oglesby

Comments

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 27, 2021:

Hi Shauna,

The coughing may snap you out of a lethal heart rhythm, but it won't stop the heart attack.

I was very fortunate for sure. Since I had systemic lupus and some other health problem, they wan't me to get a stress test., but it probably saved my life. They usuallyy have a reason for ordering that test, like pain in your chest or for me it was that they weren't sure about.

Your doctor may suggest a treadmill test as you age or if you have some symptoms that sound like they could be cardiac related.

I am glad you found the article information helpful. I appreciate your comments, as always. Stay safe and healthy!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on July 27, 2021:

Pamela, this is such important information and you did a fine job of presenting it. I've heard that if you feel you're having a heart attack, to cough several times until help arrives. Is this true? Is coughing a means of jump-starting your heart?

How very fortunate that you were able to avoid a heart attack by the discovery of abnormalities during your stress test. I've never had one - stress test, I mean. Is that something that's recommended? My doctor has never suggested I take one.

Great information, Pamela. I'll be back to watch the videos.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 26, 2021:

I appreciate your comments, Miebakagh.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 25, 2021:

Pamela, all your readers agree the article is very informative. You meant much for our good health. May this article continue to be found onlne. Thanks.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 25, 2021:

Hi Heidi,

You are right about these symtoms and your other comments as well.

I am glad this was informative for you. Thank you for your comments.

Have a wonderful week!

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on July 25, 2021:

What's so difficult is that these symptoms can mimic other conditions or illnesses. Always important to listen to your body and talk with your healthcare providers about what's going on! Thanks for sharing this important info!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 25, 2021:

Hi Devika,

I am glad you found it informative, and I hope you ar more aware of the symptoms.

I appreciate your comments, my friend. Stay safe and healthy!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 25, 2021:

Hi Adrienne,

I don't have the answer to your question, but I think poverty, so diet, not knowledge of symptoms and no good medical care are probably the reasons.

The heartburn would probably be pretty severe in a major heart attack and there would probably be some other symptom along with it. It is just good to be aware of the symptoms and not to ignore them.

Thank you so much for your comments.

Adrienne Farricelli on July 25, 2021:

I wonder what causes over 75% of heart attack deaths to occur in low to middle income countries. Perhaps they are not seeking medical care? Are they eating less healthy? Are they more stressed?

It is scary that one of the signs of a heart attack is heartburn/ indigestion which makes it even more complicated telling them apart!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on July 25, 2021:

Pamela I found this hub most informative. Heart attacks are sudden and you have brought to light the signs in detail and lots ou have mentioned I didn't know of. Thank you

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 23, 2021:

Hi Alyssa,

I agree that her health is extremely important. I try to make my medical articles thorough and in languaG=ge everyone can understand.

I am glad the person you love survived. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and for commenting.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Alyssa from Ohio on July 23, 2021:

This article hits home as someone I love dearly suffered from a heart attack. Scary doesn't even begin to describe the spectrum of emotions I felt during that time. Luckily, the person was okay, didn't suffer long-term damage, and was able to understand why it happened. I love how you not only explained the warning signs, but also listed the risk factors. Heart health is so important.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 23, 2021:

Hi Vidya,

Knowing the heart attack symptoms is so important, especially as we age.

I ws truly blessed, and I agree we need regular health tests these days.

Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I pray you stay safe and healthy too!

VIDYA D SAGAR on July 23, 2021:

Thanks for sharing this informative and important article Pamela. Recognizing the early signs can help avert a major catastrophe. Thank God they recognized and treated your problem early. Regular health tests are an absolute necessity nowadays. Take care my friend, stay safe.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 23, 2021:

Hi Lora,

Your experience with Factor Five sound horrible. I know it is a genetic condition, but I never had a patient with disorder. Of course the blood clots could have ended up anywhere in your body. Thank goodness you were treated. I have seen patients with pulmonary embolisms, and they were very serious. I am glad you are on an anticoagulant.

I agree that all people need to take these signs and symptoms seriously.

Thank you so much for sharing your terrible experience. I pray you stay healthy in the future.

Lora Hollings on July 22, 2021:

A great article Parmela on symptoms that can indicate a heart attack and that we all need to become aware of. It's funny that many of these symptoms reminded me of when I had pulmonary embolisms due to having Factor Five. It was very scarry, I had an intense stabbing pain in my chest and I could hardly breathe. I remember everything going black and I fell to the floor. Thank God, I was near a phone and could call my husband right away who called 911. I had been very healthy all of my life, so I couldn't believe that I could have a DVT in my right leg that would end up being four blood clots that went to my lungs until later they diagnosed me with Factor Five Leiden which is a mutation that makes your blood very thick and thus you have to be on an anticoagulant for the rest of your life. I feel fortunate to be alive! Your article is just excellent. All people need to heed these warning signs and take them very seriously! It's better to be safe than sorry. Blood clots in the chest can cause many of these symptoms as well.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 22, 2021:

Hi Peace,

I do believen the is an important topic. I am glad you found it informative.

Thank you so much for your nice comments.

I pray you stay safe and healthy as well.

Peace Tobe Dike from Delta State, Nigeria. on July 22, 2021:

Thank you, Pamela for sharing this article and in such a great depth..it's very informative and this topic is too important. It's good that we're aware of these signs so that we're able to save lives. Thank you for enlightening us because I'm sure a lot of people would find this very useful.

Be safe and healthy. Love and hugs.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 22, 2021:

Hi Swati,

I am glad you found this article to be informative. Thank you so much for your comments.

Blessings.

Swati Sharma from India on July 22, 2021:

A very informational and helpful article, thank you for sharing.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 22, 2021:

Hi EK,

I am glad this is a helpful article for you. I appreciate your comments.

I jopr you stay safe and healthy too.

EK Jadoon from Abbottabad Pakistan on July 22, 2021:

This was a very helpful read, Pamela. The rate of heart attack is increasing day by day. Thanks for sharing the information.

Stay safe and healthy..

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 22, 2021:

I appreciate your comments, Miebakagh.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 22, 2021:

I agree that the article is full of information. But what's information good for? Use it daily in a practical way. It's the heart. Dare to take good care of it, and extend the life span. I do. Thanks.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 22, 2021:

Hi Flourish,

I am glad you found this article to have great information.

Thank you so much for your comments. Have a wonderful day!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 22, 2021:

Hi Brenda,

Taking an aspirin whether full strength or baby aspirins is recommended.

A cough will probably not stop the heart attack from happening but it may change a heart rhythm, so it sure can't hurt.

I am glad you found this information valuable.

I appreciate your comments. Have a wonderful day!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 22, 2021:

Hi Audrey,

I am glad you know more about heart attack symptoms, which sometimes is helpful for a family member.

Your comments are appreciated, as always. Stay safe and healthy!

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on July 21, 2021:

I've not given much thought to a heart attack, but after reading this informative piece, I sure do now. You've given us valuable insight and I thank you!

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on July 21, 2021:

Pamela

Much valuable information written in this one.

A heartache can happen at any time & we seem to ignore those warning signs.

I've heard that if you cough...it can help if you are alone.

Also...that one should dissolve 4 baby aspirins under tongue.

I have no idea if these are true.

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 21, 2021:

Great information to stay healthy. Thank you for sharing this information. I didn’t know about the connection with autoimmune diseases.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 21, 2021:

Hi Miebakagh,

The information is good to know as there are too many people who have heart attacks in this world.

I am glad you make healthy choices.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 21, 2021:

Pamela, all your readers like like the article.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 21, 2021:

Thank you, Pamela.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 21, 2021:

Hi Linda,

You are so sweet, Linda. I always look forward to your comments.

I think God just isn't ready for me yet. LOL

My mother died from congestive heart failure also.

I do think heart disease is always a topic to understand and learn the symptoms. I am glad you like this article.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on July 21, 2021:

Pamela, thank you for writing about this topic. I think every one of us knows someone who has had a heart attack or has a heart condition. It's so very important to know and recognize the warning signs. My mother-in-law died from congestive heart failure. I am thankful that your doctors discovered your problem before any damage was done. How blessed we are to have you here.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 21, 2021:

Hi Peggy,

My mother survived a heart attack, but she died of congestive heart failure. She did have a good long life, but I will always miss her.

I think I was very fortunate that my problem was found since I had no symptoms.

I do think this is a very important topic as so many die from heart attacks. I appreciate your generous comments. I hope you are having a wonderful day!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 21, 2021:

Hi Pamela,

I am sorry that heart disease took your mother from you. It was lucky that they discovered your problem from a treadmill test and that it was remedied. Thanks for sharing the symptoms of heart disease. It is an important topic.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 21, 2021:

Hi Misbah,

Heart disease took my mother and some others that I love as well.

As an RN I took care of a lot of cardiac patients from ICU and eventually I taught Cardiac Rehab. I hope this information is useful as well.

I am glad you found the article informative.

Thank you so much for your generous comments.

Blessings and love,

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on July 21, 2021:

Pamela, thank you for sharing this informative and useful article. I always appreciate your efforts. Heart attacks have taken the lives of many of my loved ones. You have gone into great detail about the early warning signs and the silent heart attack. I hope this information is useful to a large number of people. Much appreciated, dear friend

Blessings and Love

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 21, 2021:

Hi Ken,

I agree that people should be aware of the symptoms of a heart attack as that knowledge could save their lives.

I am glad you liked the article. I appreciate your comments.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 21, 2021:

Hi Chrish,

I am sorry to hear your mother has so many health problems. zIt is good that you are better informed about heart attacks now.

I always appreciate your comments.

Thank you for the super power hugs! Love and hugs to you too!

Ken Burgess from Florida on July 21, 2021:

Good Article, people need to be more aware of these symptoms.

Chrish Canosa from Manila Philippines on July 21, 2021:

I thank you so much for sharing these information with us Ms Pamela.

My mom is a breast and thyroid cancer patient, and a type 2 diabetic patient. I'm surprised about silent heart attack I didn't know this, I personally thank you very much Ms Pamela for all the informations from what signs to what to do.

God bless you good health

And here's my super power hugs and love! Hope you have a wonderful day!!!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 21, 2021:

Hi Bill,

If your father was still with us I imagine he would survive today. Getting to the hospital quickly is the key to surviving a heart attack.

I appreciate your comments. Have a wonderful day!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 21, 2021:

Hi Miebakagh,

I'm glad you learned early how to take good care of yourself. I agree that no one should ignore the heart symptoms.

Thank you for your generous comments. Have a wonderful day!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 21, 2021:

Hi Manatita,

I'm kind of glad I am around too. God was merciful as I had no symptoms.

I an glad you liked the article. Thank you for your comments. Have a wonderful day!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 21, 2021:

This brought back memories of my dad and his fatal heart attack. We know so much more now than we did in 1969. Chances are he would have survived if he had the attack today. Sigh! Such an important article. Thanks for writing it, my friend.

manatita44 from london on July 21, 2021:

A necessary topic beautifully explained. I'm also happy that you're still with us Pamela. God was very merciful to you. Much love.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 21, 2021:

Pamela, this should not ignored by every adult over 40 years. I recall I began learning about heart diseases and heart attack at 20 years. So I'm taking good care of myself. Now I'm into my 70. I eat healthy including grains, seeds, nuts, and herbs. I also exercise moderately(30 minutes) thrice a week. But once a month, I jog a mile once a mile. I've checked myselve with some of the signs. Good God. Thanks for sharing.

Charlene Gallant from Cape Town, South Africa on July 21, 2021:

Thank you Pamela, Im trying lol but in these pandemic times, the stress doesn't do my high blood pressure any favors

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 21, 2021:

Hi Charlene,

I am sorry to hear you had even a mild stroke. I guess all you can do is try to have healthy habits.

I appreciate your comments. Have a wonderful day!

Charlene Gallant from Cape Town, South Africa on July 21, 2021:

I suffered a mild stroke a couple of years ago and these signs sound eerily similar... an interesting but scary read. Thanks Pamela:)

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 21, 2021:

Hi Rosina,

I am sorry to hear about your dad. That happens way to often, so knowing the possible symptoms is important.

I am glad to have you share this article. Maybe you can print it.

I appreciate your comments. Have a wonderful day!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 21, 2021:

Hi Chitrangada,

I am glad you found this article to be easy to understand.

It is important to know these symptoms as so many people die, and woman don't always have the same symptoms as men. Women tend to wit longer to go to the ER, so a bigger percentage of women die.

Periodical health check ups are very important. I guess God was watching over me, and I never had the classic symptoms.

Thank you so much for your comments. Have a wonderful day!

Rosina S Khan on July 21, 2021:

I wish I had read this article 23 years earlier when my Dad had his first heart attack. He couldn't be convinced to go to the hospital and the delay was certainly detrimental to his health. Anyways, now I can share the article with family, friends, and relatives and make them aware of the disease beforehand.

Thank you so much, Pamela, for such a helpful and educative contribution.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on July 21, 2021:

An excellent article about heart attack, it’s symptoms, causes and treatments.

I do have an idea about this, but you explained them in a simple to understand manner.

It’s important to understand the various symptoms, and not to ignore them. It can save lives, if immediate treatment is given. Silent attacks may be difficult to identify. Good of you to mention those symptoms too.

Periodical health check ups are necessary, and it’s good that you got your treatment at the right time.

Thank you for spreading awareness with regard to heart disease.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 21, 2021:

Hi John,

I think it is very important to know abut the symptoms of heart attacks as they kill so many people.

Thank you so much for your comments. Have a wonderful day!

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on July 21, 2021:

Thank you so much for sharing this information, Pamela. We need to be aware of all these things and take any symptoms seriously.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 21, 2021:

Hi Ms Dora,

I agree that we need to know how our bodies work and about potential problems. I worked with heart patients for any years and enjoyed it.

I appreciate your comments, as always. Have a wonderful day!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 21, 2021:

Thank you for sharing the symptoms in such detail. We cannot have too much education on this matter. Thanks also for sharing from your experience.

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