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Heart Attack Warning Signs

A heart attack is a frightening event, and you probably don't want to think about it. But, if you learn the signs of a heart attack and what steps to take, you can save a life–maybe your own.

What are the signs of a heart attack? Many people think a heart attack is sudden and intense, like a "movie" heart attack, where a person clutches his or her chest and falls over.

The truth is that many heart attacks start slowly, as a mild pain or discomfort. If you feel such a symptom, you may not be sure what's wrong. Your symptoms may even come and go. Even those who have had a heart attack may not recognize their symptoms, because the next attack can have entirely different ones.

It's vital that everyone learn the warning signs of a heart attack. These are:

Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.

Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.

Shortness of breath. Often comes along with chest discomfort. But it also can occur before chest discomfort.

Other symptoms. May include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or light-headedness.

Learn the signs–but also remember: Even if you're not sure it's a heart attack, you should still have it checked out. Fast action can save lives-maybe your own.

Frequently Asked Questions About Heart Attack

Heart Attack Warning Signs—

Q: How would I know if I were having a heart attack?

Often, it is not easy to tell. But there are symptoms people may have. These are: an uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back; discomfort in other areas of the upper body, which may be felt in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach; shortness of breath, which often occurs with or before chest discomfort; and other symptoms such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or light-headedness. When in doubt, check it out! Call 9-1-1. Donít wait more than a few minutes–5 at most. Call right away!

Q: What is angina and how is it different from a heart attack?

An episode of angina is NOT a heart attack. However, people with angina report having a hard time telling the difference between angina symptoms and heart attack symptoms. Angina is a recurring pain or discomfort in the chest that happens when some part of the heart does not receive enough blood temporarily. A person may notice it during exertion (such as in climbing stairs). It is usually relieved within a few minutes by resting or by taking prescribed angina medicine. People who have been diagnosed with angina have a greater risk of a heart attack than do other people.

Prehospital Delay Time—

Q: Iíd rather wait until Iím sure somethingís really wrong. Whatís the rush anyway?

Clot-busting drugs and other artery-opening treatments work best when given within the first hour after a heart attack starts. The first hour also is the most risky time during a heart attack–itís when your heart might stop suddenly. Responding fast to your symptoms really increases your chance of surviving.

Q: So how quickly should I act?

If you have any heart attack symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately. Donít wait for more than a few minutes–5 at most–to call 9-1-1.

Q: Why should I bother? If Iím going to die, thereís not much I can do about it anyway, is there?

Thatís not true. There is something that can be done about a heart attack. Doctors have clot-busting drugs and other artery-opening procedures that can stop or reverse a heart attack, if given quickly. These drugs can limit the damage to the heart muscle by removing the blockage and restoring blood flow. Less heart damage means a better quality of life after a heart attack.

Given that these new therapies are available, itís very sad to know that so many people cannot receive these treatments because they delay too long before seeking care. The greatest benefits of these therapies are gained when patients come in early (preferably within the first hour of the start of their symptoms).

The Role of Emergency Medical Personnel—

Q: Emergency medical personnel cause such a commotion. Canít I just have my wife/husband/friend/coworker take me to the hospital?

Emergency medical personnel—also called EMS, for emergency medical services—bring medical care to you. For example, they bring oxygen and medications. And they can actually restart someoneís heart if it stops after they arrive. Your wife/husband/friend/coworker canít do that, or help you at all if they are driving. In the ambulance, there are enough people to give you the help you need and get you to the hospital right away.

Steps to Survival—

Q: Iím not sure I can remember all this. What can I do to make it easier for me?

You can make a plan and discuss it in advance with your family, your friends, your coworkers and, of course, your doctor. Then you can rehearse this plan, just like a fire drill. Keep it simple. Know the warning signs. Keep information–such as what medications youíre taking–in one place. If you have any symptoms of a heart attack for a few minutes (no more than 5), call the EMS by dialing 9-1-1 right away.

Q: I carry nitroglycerin pills all the time for my heart condition. If I have heart attack symptoms, shouldnít I try them first?

Yes, if your doctor has prescribed nitroglycerin pills, you should follow your doctorís orders. If you are not sure about how to take your nitroglycerin when you get chest pain, check with your doctor.

Q: What about taking an aspirin like we see on television?

You should not delay calling 9-1-1 to take an aspirin. Studies have shown that people sometimes delay seeking help if they take an aspirin (or other medicine). Emergency department personnel will give people experiencing a heart attack an aspirin as soon as they arrive. So, the best thing to do is to call 9-1-1 immediately and let the professionals give the aspirin.

Download this Power Point Program that explains what to do if you have a heart attack and you are alone. Click Here