Common Heart Attack Signs: What to Watch


Heart attack symptoms may be mild or severe. We asked Dr. To what symptoms we should watch.

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While some heart attacks are sudden and intense, many start slowly with mild pain or discomfort. So, it’s important to pay attention to your body. We asked Dr. Thomas To, a cardiologist with Renown Institute for Heart and Vascular Health, to explain the signs of heart attacks.

What is a heart attack and what signs should we watch?

A heart attack occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or stopped. This happens because coronary arteries that supply the heart with blood can slowly become thicker and harder from a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances, called plaque.

Most heart attacks involve chest discomfort: uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes. They can also involve discomfort in other areas of the upper body, such as pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach. Shortness of breath might occur with or without chest discomfort. Other heart attack signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or light-headedness.


Are the signs different for men and women?

Similar to men, the most common heart attack symptom for women is chest pain or discomfort. However, women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain. Even though heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, women often chalk up the symptoms to less life-threatening conditions such as acid reflux, the flu or normal aging. It’s important to get medical attention if you are experiencing any of the signs of a heart attack.

When should someone call 9-1-1?

When it comes to a heart attack, minutes matter. Even if you are not sure if you are having a heart attack, you should call 9-1-1 if you are experiencing any symptoms of a heart attack. Calling 9-1-1 is almost always the quickest way to get lifesaving treatment. Emergency medical services staff can start treatment right when they arrive and are also trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped.

What are some ways someone can prevent a heart attack?

The American Heart Association recommends beginning heart disease prevention early in life, starting by assessing your risk factors and working to keep them low. The more risk factors you have, and the greater the level of each risk factor, the higher your chance of developing coronary heart disease — a common term for the buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries that could lead to heart attack.

Risk factors include:

  • Increasing Age
  • Male gender
  • Heredity (including race)
  • Tobacco Use
  • High Cholesterol
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Physical Inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

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