A heart attack is a potentially life threatening condition that can happen when the blood vessels that supply your heart muscles are blocked. If your heart muscle isn’t getting enough blood then the tissue can be starved of oxygen. This can cause a variety of different symptoms. It is important to be aware of these signs of a heart attack so that you can seek help right away if you or someone else is affected.
Common Heart Attack Symptoms
Most people are familiar with some of the most common heart attack symptoms. You may already be aware that a heart attack can cause the following symptoms.
- Chest pain: this will usually appear suddenly and it won’t go away without treatment. It can feel like your chest is being squeezed or pressed.
- Pain that spreads to your arm: the pain may spread along one or both of your arms or into your neck, jaw, back or stomach.
Other common symptoms of heart attacks that are less well known are:
- Shortness of breath
- Light headedness
Unusual Heart Attack Symptoms
Heart attack symptoms are often easy to spot as many people will experience a sudden and severe pain in their chest. However, some people can experience the symptoms differently, which can make it harder to recognise what is happening. Some of the less common heart attack symptoms include:
- Sudden anxiety, a bit like a panic attack
- Coughing or wheezing
- Heart attack symptoms that start gradually, sometimes over several days instead of as a sudden attack
- Mild chest pain that just feels like indigestion
- A heart attack without any chest pain (this is more common in older people, women and people who have diabetes)
Some people may also experience heart-attack like symptoms that only appear when they are exercising or exerting themselves and then go away after resting. This could be caused by angina, which happens when the blood supply to the heart muscle is restricted but not completely blocked. Angina can be a sign that you are at risk of a heart attack but it can be managed with medication if you see your doctor.
Heart Attack Symptoms in Women
One reason why it can sometimes be difficult to recognise the signs of a heart attack is that we tend to associate them with middle aged men, particularly those who live an unhealthy lifestyle. Although it is true that men are more likely to have heart attacks than women, it is possible for anyone to be affected. Men and women of all ages and lifestyles can have heart attacks so it is vital to take the symptoms seriously, no matter who is affected. Even young and apparently healthy people can have heart attacks or other cardiac problems.
However, you are more likely to have a heart attack if you are male, over 40, overweight, a smoker, lead a sedentary lifestyle or have a family history of coronary heart disease. You can reduce the risk of a heart attack by improving your diet and lifestyle. It is also a good idea to visit Cardiac Screen for heart screening if you are over 40 or at higher risk of heart disease. Screening can detect signs that you are at risk of a heart attack so that you can get treatment before you experience any symptoms.
The symptoms of a heart attack are usually similar, no matter who is affected. However, some people dismiss the symptoms because they think that they aren’t at risk. In other cases, people experience slightly more unusual symptoms and aren’t aware that they are caused by a heart attack.
What to Do If You Suspect a Heart Attack
A heart attack is a medical emergency so you should call an ambulance right away if you suspect that you or someone else is having one. It’s always best to call even if you’re not experiencing the classic heart attack symptoms or you aren’t a typical heart attack patient.
While you are waiting for the ambulance to arrive you (or the person who is affected) should sit down, rest and try to stay calm. If there is an aspirin within reach (or someone can fetch it) then you should chew on a tablet. Aspirin can help by preventing blood clots from forming and blocking your arteries more.