Common Signs and Symptoms (early warning signs) of a Heart Attack
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense — the "movie heart attack," where no one doubts what's happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often, people affected aren’t sure if their symptoms indicate something serious or not and wait too long before getting help. Below are some of the signs and symptoms that commonly occur during a heart attack:·
- 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. Symptoms 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 may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
Other Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack
- Unexplained fatigue
- Palpitations (the sensation that your heart is skipping a beat or beating too rapidly)
- Dyspnea (difficult or labored breathing)
- Chest pain
Heart Attack Signs in Women
- 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.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
If you have any of these signs, don’t wait more than five minutes before calling for help. Call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Risk factors you cannot change.
Some risk factors for heart disease you cannot change, and the more of these risk factors you have, the greater your chances of developing coronary heart disease.
About 82 percent of people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 or older. At older ages, women who have heart attacks are more likely than men to die from them.
Male Sex (Gender)
Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women, and they have attacks earlier in life. Although women’s death rates from heart attacks increase after menopause, men still have an overall greater risk than women.
Heredity (Including Race)
There is an increase in the risk of heart attack if a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) has had a heart attack. African Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure and a higher risk of heart disease than Caucasians. Heart disease risk is also higher among Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asian Americans. This risk is partly due to higher rates of obesity and diabetes. Most people with a strong family history of heart disease have one or more other risk factors.
Risk factors you can change.
Because you can't control your age, sex, race or family history, it's even more important to treat and control the risk factors that can be changed.
Smokers' risk of developing coronary heart disease is 2 to 4 times more than nonsmokers. People who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day have more than twice the risk of heart attack than people who’ve never smoked. Cigarette smoking is a powerful independent risk factor for sudden cardiac death in patients with coronary heart disease. Cigarette smoking also acts with other risk factors to greatly increase the risk for coronary heart disease. People who smoke cigars or pipes seem to have a higher risk of death from coronary heart disease (and possibly stroke), but their risk isn't as great as cigarette smokers. Exposure to other people's smoke increases the risk of heart disease even for nonsmokers.
High blood cholesterol
As blood cholesterol rises, so does risk of coronary heart disease. When other risk factors (such as high blood pressure and tobacco smoke) are present, this risk increases even more. A person's cholesterol level is also affected by age, sex, heredity and diet. Below is a quick summary of where those numbers to be:
Total Cholesterol: Less than 180 mg/dL
Low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol = "bad" cholesterol
A low LDL cholesterol level is considered good for your heart health. However, your LDL number should no longer be the main factor in guiding treatment to prevent heart attack and stroke, according to the latest guidelines from the American Heart Association. For patients taking statins, the guidelines say they no longer need to get LDL cholesterol levels down to a specific target number. A diet high in saturated and trans fats raises LDL cholesterol.
High-density-lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol = "good" cholesterol
With HDL (good) cholesterol, higher levels are better. Low HDL cholesterol puts you at higher risk for heart disease. People with high blood triglycerides usually also have lower HDL cholesterol. Genetic factors, type 2 diabetes, and certain drugs, such as beta-blockers and anabolic steroids, also lower HDL cholesterol levels. Smoking, being overweight and being sedentary can all result in lower HDL cholesterol.
Triglyceride is the most common type of fat in the body. Normal triglyceride levels vary by age and sex. A high triglyceride level combined with low HDL cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol is associated with atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits in artery walls that increases the risk for heart attack and stroke.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure increases the heart's workload, causing the heart muscle to thicken and become stiff. This stiffening of the heart muscle is not normal, and causes the heart to work harder. It also increases your risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and congestive heart failure. When high blood pressure exists with obesity, smoking, high blood cholesterol levels or diabetes, the risk of heart attack or stroke increases several times.
An inactive lifestyle is a risk factor for coronary heart disease. Regular, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity helps prevent heart and blood vessel disease. The more vigorous the activity, the greater your benefits. However, even moderate-intensity activities help if done regularly and long term. Physical activity can help control blood cholesterol, diabetes and obesity, as well as help lower blood pressure in some people.
Obesity and overweight
People who have excess body fat — especially in the waist — are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even if they have no other risk factors. Excess weight increases the heart's work load because often the blood pressure is higher. It also raises blood pressure and blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and lowers HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. It can also make diabetes more likely to develop. Many obese and overweight people may have difficulty losing weight, but by losing even 10% from your current weight, you can lower your heart disease risk.
Diabetes seriously increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Even when glucose levels are under control, diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, but the risks are even greater if blood sugar is not well controlled. At least 65% of people with diabetes die of some form of heart or blood vessel disease. If you have diabetes, it's extremely important to work with your healthcare provider to manage it and control any other risk factors you can. Persons who are obese or overweight should lose weight to keep blood sugar in control.
Calling 9-1-1 is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment. Emergency medical services (EMS) staff can begin treatment when they arrive — up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car. EMS staff are also trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped. Patients with chest pain who arrive by ambulance usually receive faster treatment at the hospital, too. It is best to call EMS for rapid transport to the emergency room.