Signs of a Heart Attack Everyone Should Know
March 16, 2022
By Morgan Kellogg, MD, Interventional Cardiologist
We often refer to the center of something as its heart. There’s a reason for that. Your physical heart is right at the center of how your body functions – working around the clock to keep you going strong. While it’s one of the most important parts, it’s one of the most vulnerable, too. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, one in four U.S. deaths – about 655,000 – each year are a result of heart disease.
That’s why it’s critical to stay alert to the signs and symptoms of heart attacks – including some less obvious ones, understand how symptoms can sometimes differ between men and women, and know what to do when an attack strikes and minutes matter.
What to look for
Common heart attack symptoms can include:
- Chest discomfort – Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. This can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs, including breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
Symptoms in women vs. men
Women can sometimes experience heart attack symptoms differently from men. While the most common symptom for both men and women is chest pain or discomfort, women are somewhat more likely to experience some of the other common – and more subtle – symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, unusual fatigue, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain (sometimes without any obvious chest discomfort).
It isn’t just heavy smokers, stressed out or overweight people who can suffer a heart attack. Otherwise healthy people – who may write their condition off as something else like the flu, abnormal indigestion, an unusually stressful time or fatigue that just doesn’t “feel right” – can delay potentially life-saving care and suffer a heart attack. Stay alert to some of these overlooked symptoms and get them checked out to see what may be going on.
What to do for your heart
In the event of a heart-related emergency like a heart attack, it’s critical to know the signs and symptoms and call 9-1-1. Acting quickly may save a life, including your own.
It’s also important to note that you don’t have to wait to experience any of the warning signs to address your heart health. Even without obvious symptoms, you could be at risk. It’s a good idea to talk with your provider about risk factors, preventive actions and care options and how you can keep your heart healthy for the long run. In fact, your annual check-up is a great time to take screening tests like BMI, blood pressure, cholesterol and fasting blood glucose; discuss any concerning results; and work with your provider to develop any necessary lifestyle changes or begin taking any medications to help you manage a risk factor. Heart disease can contribute to a higher risk of complications from COVID-19, so it’s especially important right now to stay on top of your heart health.
Community Medical Center is proud to be Western Montana’s only accredited Chest Pain Center. If you think you may be having heart-related symptoms, it’s crucial to not delay care. Learn more about signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
Our heart works hard for us, so we should do what we can to be smart, stay alert to danger and help keep it healthy.
If you’d like to make an appointment with a provider to talk about your heart health, contact one of our cardiologists, family medicine or internal medicine providers by visiting our Find a Provider
If you have questions about your heart health but aren’t quite sure where to begin, start with a heart health assessment and learn more about any risks you may have for heart-related conditions. Your journey to a stronger heart starts here.