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Don’t die of doubt: Early warning signs of a heart attack

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Early warning signs of a heart attack 1

Chest pain or discomfort, not everyone will experience this most recognizable symptom of a heart attack.

McLeod Health is partnering with the American Heart Association to help spread the message “Don’t Die of Doubt.”

Please know that hospitals are still the safest place for you to be when a medical emergency strikes. Don’t hesitate or doubt: Call 911 at the first sign of a heart attack or stroke.

Heart attacks usually come with a warning. Here are eight early warning signs:

1. Chest pain/discomfort

Chest discomfort can range from mild to severe. It often is located in the breastbone, one or both shoulders or upper back. It feels like a tight ache, pressure, fullness or squeezing in the chest. It may radiate to other areas of the body. Chest discomfort is probably the most recognizable symptom of a heart attack, but not everyone will experience chest pain. Also, it can be difficult to distinguish between chest pain and heartburn, because they feel so similar. Heart attack survivors have reported feelings of restriction, such as a squeezing band around the upper back and torso as the pressure builds prior to the attack. This sensation could also be experienced in the jaw, which is particularly common in women.

2. Pain in other areas

Discomfort in areas such as the stomach, back, neck, jaw or one or both arms is very common prior to a heart attack. Tooth pain can also be experienced. Again, chest pain is the most common symptom, but many people are not aware that pain in other areas of the body can be a sign as well. Classic heart attack signs are pain and numbness shooting down the left arm. This pain can travel to other areas of the body.

3. Sweating

The onset of a heart attack can cause some people to experience cold sweating without any physical exertion or apparent reason. Your clothes might become soaked and your face might turn pale. This can happen during the day or at night. When the arteries are clogged, it can take more effort for the heart to pump blood or stimulate the nervous system, which controls sweating. As a result, the body will try to maintain a safe temperature, causing sweating from the extra effort on the heart.

Excessive sweating can be a sign of heart problems, not just a heart attack. Excessive sweating without doing something that causes exertion should be taken seriously. If you are experiencing unexplainable sweating, schedule a visit with a physician or cardiologist so tests can be run to identify the cause.

4. Fatigue

During the weeks before a heart attack, a slow drain on energy will start building up, leading to complete exhaustion a few days prior to the heart attack. Simple activities like bending down to tie your shoes can be tiring. Most people will not consider fatigue as a warning sign, because it can be too easily written off as a lack of sleep, stress or a busy lifestyle.

5. Shortness of breath

Women particularly describe experiencing breathlessness in the days before a heart attack. For some it is so severe they can’t even carry on a normal conversation. The cause of this symptom is related to the process of returning blood to the lungs from the heart. When this doesn’t happen correctly, fluid can leak into the lungs and cause shortness of breath.

6. Flu-like symptoms

Many people who have experienced a heart attack thought they had the flu, since it accompanied flu-like symptoms prior to the attack. Except for high fever, symptoms can be similar, such as chest fullness, shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, bloating and coughing. Recognizing these as potential heart-related issues can help improve your chance of recovery by seeking treatment before it is too late.

7. Dizziness

Patients complain of dizziness, and some even faint prior to a heart attack. The potential danger in this would be injuries to the head or breaking a bone from the fall. Anyone who experiences dizziness to the point that they can’t walk properly should sit down and call for help.

8. Anxiety

Stress so severe that it causes anxiety is common for heart attack sufferers. Some people explain it as a feeling of impending doom, which is the body’s way of expressing something is wrong.

Time is of the essence

Surviving and recovering from a heart attack depends on a variety of factors, including medical history. How quickly you seek out medical treatment from a facility trained to unblock your heart arteries can impact the outcome of a heart attack.

With a heart attack, time is of the essence. If adequate blood flow is not restored quickly, permanent damage to the heart might occur. For this reason, it is important that chest pain always be taken seriously.

Don’t ignore the pain

The McLeod Chest Pain Center offers a dedicated full-spectrum emergency cardiac care program to evaluate the situation before it gets worse and, in many cases, prevent a severe heart attack. The McLeod Chest Pain Center is staffed 24 hours per day, seven days per week by experienced health care professionals who are especially trained in recognizing and treating a heart attack.

If anyone experiences any of the signs of a heart attack — pain in the chest, shortness of breath and a recurrent discomfort that feels like indigestion — don’t ignore the pain. If you are able, take an aspirin and call 911. Don’t wait to call for help. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) staff will begin treatment when they arrive at your location.

At the McLeod Heart and Vascular Institute, you and your physician can work together to protect your heart and vascular health, now and into the future. When you come to any of our McLeod locations, be assured that we have taken numerous steps to protect you and your health care team.

Don’t delay emergency care for your heart. McLeod is chest pain and stroke accredited, and we are here to care for life-threatening situations such as heart attacks and strokes.

Your heart care team is here to help you with your heart and vascular health plans. Team members will guide you on how to safely proceed with all appointments, whether it’s an office visit, procedure or surgery. Call your physician’s office if you have any questions. At McLeod, nothing is more important than your health and safety.

Dr. Alan Blaker serves as the executive medical director of the McLeod Heart and Vascular Institute. He is an Interventional Cardiologist with McLeod Cardiology Associates and is accepting new patients. Self-referrals are welcome. Appointments can be made by calling 843-667-1891.

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