A heart attack may occur when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked off. This blockage is generally a severe buildup of fat, cholesterol or other substances that cause plaque to accumulate in the coronary arteries.
Eventually, this plaque will break away and form a clot that interrupts blood flow and damages or destroys a significant portion of the heart. In some cases, a heart attack can be life-threatening.
Do Not Ignore What Could Be Signs of a Heart Attack
It is imperative that you catch the early warning signs of a heart attack before they worsen. Most start slowly, with mild pain and discomfort present. Some, however, come on suddenly and intensely.
- Chest Discomfort — The clear majority of heart attacks involve chest discomfort lasting for more than a few minutes. The feeling may dissipate and return over a period of a few minutes. Most say the sensation is similar to immense pressure, squeezing, fullness or outright pain.
- Upper Body Discomfort — Along with the chest, many heart attack victims experience pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the upper back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of Breath — Noticeable shortness of breath may occur in tandem with chest discomfort or without it whatsoever.
- Other Symptoms — The other key signs of a heart attack include cold sweat, nausea and lightheadedness. Unfortunately, these are common symptoms for many ailments and often go unnoticed or ignored.
Can Heart Attack Symptoms Differ for Men and Women?
There are many similarities between men and women when it comes to heart attack symptoms. For example, as with men, women’s most common symptom is chest pain or discomfort.
However, women are more likely to experience minor symptoms along with angina, such as nausea, vomiting, back or jaw pain and shortness of breath. In men, these symptoms either are not present or go unnoticed.
If You Think You’re Having a Heart Attack, Here’s What to Do
- Call 911 — Do not ignore the symptoms of a heart attack for longer than five minutes. If you cannot reach emergency medical services, call a friend, family member or neighbor and ask them to drive you to the closest hospital.
- Aspirin — Unless you have a severe allergy to aspirin, chew and swallow some after you seek emergency help.
- Nitroglycerin — If you believe you are having a heart attack and your doctor has already prescribed nitroglycerin, take it as directed.