Heart disease is one of the major health conditions afflicting millions of Americans, causing 1 in 3 deaths in this country. Every year, over 1.5 million heart attacks and strokes take place. If you find yourself alone and suffering from a heart attack, you may not realize it at first. Understanding the symptoms of a heart attack and getting treatment quickly could be the difference between life and death.
Similarly, if you notice someone who isn’t well and might be having a heart attack, getting them treated quickly could make a major difference. So here are some of the signs to watch for.
Chest Pain or Discomfort
Chest pain is one of the classic signs of a heart attack. It can be sharp or dull, and often occurs in the center of the chest. Sometimes it may even feel like indigestion or gas. If you’re not sure whether the pain you’re feeling is a heart attack, call a doctor to find out. Remember that many heart attacks occur even without chest pain, so the lack of chest pain isn’t necessarily a sign that you aren’t having a heart attack.
Neck, Jaw, or Upper Body Pain
Many heart attack victims may experience pain in the neck or head, feeling like a toothache or a headache. Sometimes the pain from a heart attack can also be felt in the arms, particularly the left arm, or in the upper back between the shoulder blades. If you experience these types of pain or soreness and it’s not because of muscular strain such as a strenuous workout, it could be an indicator of a heart attack.
Shortness of Breath
Feeling short of breath is another common heart attack symptom. It may occur with or without chest pain. If it comes on suddenly and is your only symptom, it may mean that you’re suffering a heart attack.
Nausea or Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are other symptoms that can accompany heart attacks. They are reported more often in women than in men.
Dizziness and Sweating
Dizziness and lightheadedness can occur during a heart attack as well. You may feel like you have to sit down, or you may feel fatigued. Feelings of fatigue occur particularly often in women. You might also feel a general feeling of being unwell, and start breaking out in a cold sweat.
What to Do If You Think You’re Having a Heart Attack
If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself, you should immediately call for emergency medical assistance. Stop any strenuous activity, sit down, and loosen any tight clothing. Taking an aspirin can be beneficial, unless of course you are allergic to aspirin. Reacting and getting treatment quickly is vital. If you wait too long to get to a hospital, you significantly increase your risk of dying from a heart attack.
How to Help Someone Having a Heart Attack
If you think someone is having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Have the person sit down. Sitting on the ground is helpful, with the head and chest propped up and the knees bent to minimize stress on the heart. If aspirin is available, have the person take it. Continue to monitor the person until emergency personnel arrive.
If the person loses consciousness, check to make sure they are breathing. If they aren’t, check their airway and be ready to start performing CPR. If an automatic external defibrillator (AED) is available, you can operate the machine by following the instructions. Continue to wait for emergency personnel to arrive.