According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 735,000 Americans have a heart attack every year. Furthermore, CDC statistics show about 47 percent of heart attack deaths occur outside of a hospital, suggesting many people do not recognize early symptoms of a heart attack and don’t react soon enough to prevent death.
Recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack and knowing how to respond is critical in avoiding death and other serious consequences.
Overview: What Does a Heart Attack Feel Like?
A heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction, occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked. In men, signs of a heart attack usually start with mild chest pain and gradually increase in severity, although signs of a heart attack can also occur suddenly and with intensity.
Heart attack symptoms include:
- Chest Pain: A squeezing, or sharp pain starts in your chest or armv and can radiate to other parts of your upper body like your back, neck, and jaw. Chest pain may go away then come back.
- Cold Sweat
- Shortness of Breath
Signs of a heart attack in women
It’s important to understand signs of a heart attack in women may look different than in men.
Women are more likely to experience the signs of a heart attack besides chest pain like shortness of breath and nausea. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, some women don’t experience pain in the chest, but the upper abdomen and back instead.
Heart attack causes are usually attributed to plaque buildup in your arteries. Plaque can be made up of cholesterol, fat, calcium and other substances. Eventually, plaque ruptures causing a clot in the artery which fully or partially blocks blood flow. When this happens, the cells of the heart don’t receive oxygen and start to die.
A heart attack might also occur due to a coronary artery spasm, in which the artery clamps down on itself restricting blood flow.
How to Respond to a Heart Attack
Once you recognize the signs of a heart attack, time becomes an immediate factor in preventing death or permanent heart damage.
If you think you’re suffering from a heart attack immediately call 911.
Emergency medical services (EMS) will be able to provide treatment as soon as they arrive and will provide swift transport to the hospital. If for some reason you are unable to contact emergency services, have someone drive you to the nearest hospital.
Risk Factors Associated with Heart Attacks
Heart attacks are often caused by years of unhealthy lifestyle choices resulting in buildup of plaque and hardening of arteries. Risk factors of a heart attack include:
- High Blood Pressure: Also called hypertension, this condition can lead to artery damage thus creating a higher risk of heart attack.
- Obesity and Unhealthy Diet: Consumption of high sodium foods and low-density cholesterol increases blood pressure and narrows blood vessels. A high weight will also increase blood pressure.
- Family History: Heart attacks tend to follow a hereditary path if your parents or siblings have had a heart attack you may be at more risk.
- Alcohol and Substance Abuse: Excessive alcohol use can increase blood pressure over time, while the use of stimulants such as cocaine can trigger a coronary artery spasm.
- Using Tobacco: smoking increases your heart rate, blood pressure and chemicals released in smoking can damage your blood vessels. This includes the use of smokeless tobacco and second-hand smoke.
- Age: Damage to your arteries can take decades. Therefore, your risk of heart attack increases as you age.
- Other Diseases: Certain conditions can increase the likelihood of a heart attack. Diabetes, for example, can damage arteries due to high levels of sugar in your blood.
Treatment and Prevention
Perhaps the most effective, and most common, way to prevent a heart attack is with proper diet and exercise. Having a healthy living and avoiding behaviors which may damage your heart and arteries like smoking and substance abuse would limit most heart attacks in the United States significantly.
Medications can also be used to decrease the risk of a heart attack. If your doctor suspects you may be at risk of a heart attack, you may be prescribed ACE inhibitors, nitroglycerine tablets or other medication which increases blood flow, lower blood pressure or dissolve blood clots.
Aspirin can also be used to reduce clotting, which is why you may be instructed to take aspirin while waiting for emergency services if you’re having a heart attack.
Regular doctor visits are a great way to know if you’re at risk of a heart attack. If you’re concerned you may have a heart condition or want to make sure your heart is healthy, contact us online or by phone to schedule an appointment.
We’re always happy to accept new patients and offer accurate and effective cardiology, vascular and vein disease services.