Heart disease continues to be considered a leading cause of death globally (ref. link). Heart attacks usually occur due to blockage in the coronary artery, leading to reduced or no circulation of blood supply to the heart muscles. Chest pain is the most common and recognized heart attack sign, but the symptoms can vary depending on gender and age (ref. link).
Heart attacks present many other symptoms, apart from the most obvious ones – chest tightness and upper body pain. These symptoms, at times, are easily mistaken for other ailments (like nausea, heartburn, and fatigue). Identifying the early signs of a heart attack and seeking prompt medical attention can make the difference between life and death.
Here are the 9 early heart attack signs to look out for.
1. Uncomfortable Pressure
The very first symptom of a heart attack (ref. link) is an uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, feeling of fullness, or pain in the centre or left side of your chest. This discomfort usually lasts for a few minutes, goes away, and comes back again.
2. Pain in Other Parts of the Body
Pain due to a heart attack can occur in places other than the chest also. A blocked coronary (ref. link) can trigger the nerves in your heart to give a signal to the body that something is wrong, and you will start feeling the pain. Considering the fact that the vagus nerve (ref. link) is connected to not only the heart but also the brain, abdomen, chest, and neck, you may feel those pain signals in other parts of the body in addition to the region around the heart. The pain and pressure in the centre of your chest spread up into your throat and jaw.
You may experience pain or discomfort in your:
Many things can make you dizzy – not drinking enough water, skipping meals, or standing up too fast. But dizziness or lightheadedness combined with chest pain and shortness of breath can signify a decrease in blood volume and a drop in blood pressure, which means a heart attack could be on its way (ref. link).
Feeling exhausted after a sleepless night or a tiring day is normal. But women can feel fatigue as an early sign of a heart attack a month before (ref. link) an actual heart attack. A study found that 95% of women noticed something was not right a month or so before their heart attacks (ref. link). The two most common early warning signs of a heart attack in women were fatigue and disturbed sleep.
5. Nausea and Indigestion
Gastric symptoms like a groggy stomach, vomiting, or belching occur when the heart and other areas of the body are not receiving sufficient blood supply. People tend to misjudge this as acid reflux or heartburn. So it is important to consult a doctor, especially if you are experiencing heartburn along with other heart attack symptoms such as;
Waking up in a cold sweat, feeling nauseated, and vomiting may look like symptoms of the flu, but they can indicate the occurrence of a silent heart attack. Unless you have just exercised, breaking out into a cold sweat, or perspiring heavily could signal a heart attack. During a heart attack (or pressure situation), your nervous system releases stress hormones. These hormones combine with white blood cells and activate a “fight or flight” response which could lead to sweating.
7. Heart Palpitations
When the heart lacks an adequate blood supply, the heart can begin to get irritable. A reduced supply of nutrient-filled blood leads to the sensation of heart palpitations.
8. Shortness of Breath
If you find it difficult to climb the stairs, and feel frequent shortness of breath, seek immediate medical attention. Even though this does not always mean you are about to have a heart attack, it could be a sign that your heart is in danger. This type of shortness of breath (ref. link), associated with a heart attack, can come with or without any chest pain. Women are found to experience shortness of breath more commonly than men.
9. Swollen Legs, Feet, and Ankles
When the heart does not pump blood fast enough, blood moves back into the veins and causes bloating in various parts of the body, like legs, feet, and ankles (ref. link). Heart failure also makes it harder for the kidneys to remove excess water and sodium from the body, which leads to bloating and swelling.
Signs and symptoms of heart attack differ for men and women. The most obvious and common heart attack symptom known is chest pain (angina) or discomfort. But women are more likely than men (ref. link) to experience some of the other atypical symptoms, especially shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and pain in the back or jaw.
Women are found to develop symptoms that are subtler and harder to identify as a heart attack, especially if the physician is only looking for the “usual” signs of a heart attack. While the common symptoms, such as chest pain or discomfort, apply to both men and women, women are more likely to experience less common symptoms, such as indigestion, difficulty in breathing, and back pain, sometimes even in the absence of obvious chest pain.
Being aware of the early signs of a heart attack is important. Even if you are not sure you have a heart attack, seek immediate medical intervention if you experience any or all the symptoms mentioned above. While these signs do not always mean you have a heart attack, it is better to be cautious and take prompt action. The chances of surviving a heart attack are higher the sooner you get medical treatment.
And remember — the best way to prevent heart attacks in the first place is to get your heart health regularly monitored for risk factors that can lead to a heart attack.
It is always better to keep a track of your heart activities using an ECG fitness tracker, so you can maintain a healthy heart and understand situations and activities that improve or worsen your heart health.
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Even though some heart attacks are sudden, there are times when the symptoms can linger for hours, days or even weeks before a heart attack. The prolonged feeling of pressure or constant pain in the chest that does not go away even with rest can be a common symptom of heart attack.
The first symptom of a heart attack is pain, discomfort, feeling of swelling or pressure in the center of the chest.
While most people suffering from heart attacks complain of chest pains, discomfort in the neck or arm, the symptoms can be different in some cases of diabetes and in women. While in these cases chest pain might not be very prominent, there are other symptoms such as shortness of breath and nausea.
Before the attack, a person may feel discomfort and pain in the chest area along with lightheadedness, pain in the neck, jaw or back and shortness of breath.
A heart attack can last from a few minutes to a few hours depending on the severity of the case.
Other Heart Health Topics To Explore:
Healthy Heart Exercise | Arrhythmia Symptoms | Heart Palpitations After Eating | Heart Rate Zones | Low Heart Rate | Low Carb Diet | Atrial Fibrillation | Cardiovascular Disease | Heart Rate During Exercise | Best ECG Monitor