Every 40 seconds, 1 American experiences a heart attack. That makes a total of 790,000 Americans experiencing heart attacks every year. Of which, 1 in every 5 are so-called “silent” heart attacks where the symptoms of heart attack may have been felt but the person affected may not be aware that damage has already been done to the heart muscles. These figures are based on reports made by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 17.7 million people died of cardiovascular diseases in 2015 alone. Almost half of which were caused by coronary artery disease, while stroke trails closely behind.
The primary cause of heart attack, medically termed as myocardial infarction, is coronary artery disease (CAD) which refers to the buildup of plaque, made up of cholesterol, inside the walls of the coronary arteries. Over time, the arteries begin to diminish in size — a condition known as atherosclerosis. This condition makes it harder for oxygen-carrying blood to enter the heart, eventually leading to a heart attack or a congestive heart failure.
The top three risk factors of a heart attack are:
Other risk factors include poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, age, diabetes, overweight or obesity, family history, illegal drug use, any form of heart disease including enlarged heart, and a previous brush with heart failure, including acute heart attack. As for alcohol and heart disease, it appears, based on several studies, that moderate drinkers are at a lower risk for developing heart diseases. However, the definition of “moderate” is still largely under debate.
The CDC further reports that about half of all deaths caused by cardiac arrest happen outside of the hospital. This suggests that very few people are getting the medical attention that they need. While many people seem to recognize that chest pain is a symptom of heart attack, not very many know of other heart attack symptoms that can manifest, sometimes even days before an actual heart attack — time which could help buy you your life and safety if only you can recognize the signs.
Signs of Heart Attack
Recognizing the signs of a heart attack can spell the difference between your survival or death. Angina which causes heart pain or chest pain is the most common sign of a heart attack. The pain often manifests at the center or at the left side of your chest. It is the most common among the signs of a heart attack in men.
Of course, there can be other causes of chest pains, including acid reflux (also known as Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD for short), peptic ulcer or, muscle strain, just to name a few. In any case, it is always best to consult with your health care provider if you experience any form of chest pain to have yourself screened or, to rule out heart disease.
What are the signs of a heart attack? According to an article published by the Harvard Medical School, the kind of chest pain that signals a heart attack is characterized by the following:
- A squeezing, numbing pain with a pressure that makes movement difficult
- Escalating pain which happens in a few minutes
- Pain over other adjacent parts of the body like the arms, shoulders, and back with continuous pain felt on the chest
- Constant chest pain with difficulty breathing, nausea, and cold sweat
- Chest pain that follows physical or emotional stress
You may also experience a sudden weakness on your legs and knees. This is why it is important to stabilize your body by sitting down or, lying on the floor so you don’t tumble over. That prevents even more damage or injury to your body, including your skull.
What happens when you have a heart attack? When oxygen-carrying blood fails to reach your heart as it is supposed to on schedule, your heart muscles will harden. This causes you chest pains. The longer it takes for you to get help, the bigger the damage to your heart will be. Heart muscles, once dead, cannot grow back or become regenerated. The result is paralysis or death.
Here’s one little-known fact that you should know now — all ears, Ladies — heart attack symptoms in women can be somewhat different than how men experience them. Women can experience tightness, an excruciating pain on any part, any side of the chest and movement of the upper body becomes especially difficult.
In many instances, angina in women is accompanied by other common heart failure symptoms. Women, unlike men, often experience these symptoms as long as a few days before the onset of a heart attack, not sudden as most men experience it. Other common and uncommon female heart attack symptoms include the following:
Pain That Spreads Down The Left Arm
Although men also experience this symptom, it is the women who often gets the sensation. There is a gradual build up of tightness creeping from the shoulders, down to the left arm. The feeling is always accompanied by a constant burning pain on the chest.
Unusual Fatigue For Multiple Days
Women experience difficulty in movement because of a feeling of uncommon tiredness. Previously affected women recall having difficulty doing simple household chores, even their own body weight becomes unbearable. It becomes harder to walk.
Feeling Heart Palpitations
Among the many signs of heart attack in women, this one cannot be missed but, it is likely to be dismissed because most women, particularly during latter stages in life and during menopause, get heart palpitations on a regular basis. Abnormal heart rhythms or faster than usual heart rates make you more aware of your beating heart unlike in ordinary times when you can forget that there’s even a heart pumping inside of you. If you notice this, it can be one of the signs of heart failure.
Cold and profuse sweating.
You know the feeling when you’re feeling nervous or, if you’re experiencing hypertension. This kind of uncontrollable sweating that makes you irritable can also be symptoms of heart disease or, worse, an impending heart attack.
Take Action: What To Do If You Think You’Re Having A Heart Attack?
Now that you know the heart attack symptoms in men and women, the next burning question that’s probably going around in your head right now is, “How to stop a heart attack?” The honest answer: you can’t. The risk factors can be avoided and, generally following a healthier lifestyle can help lower your risk but, once the plaque has built up so badly, it’s only a matter of time before you experience one.
There are a number of things that you can do to ensure your survival though when you do get a heart attack. Knowing the symptoms is the first step since that prompts you to take these next steps to protect your heart health during a heart attack:
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Step 1: Call for help.
The moment you recognize any of the heart attack warning signs, pick up your phone. In moments like this, you will be grateful that you took a few minutes in the past to assign those one-touch memory dialers to store your personal emergency numbers. Don’t ever forget that a heart attack is an emergency. Call 9-1-1 immediately and consider calling up a family member or a friend who can come over and help see you through until professional medical help arrives.
Step 2: Chew on aspirin
If you have any existing heart condition or, have been previously screened to be at high risk for developing heart disease, there’s a big chance that you’ve been advised to take aspirin daily. If you have aspirin where you are, take one tablet immediately. Chew on it to make sure it readily becomes assimilated into your bloodstream. Taking aspirin within 30 minutes of noting your first symptom could be crucial in preventing blood clots that could further worsen your already sluggish blood flow.
Keep in mind that now is not the time for you to be chewing on food or even drinking water even if you’re badly thirsting for a drink. Take your aspirin without water.
Step 3: Lie down
Make it easier for your blood to flow into your heart by lying with your upper back flat on the floor while your legs are raised on the couch. Stay in this position until help arrives.
Step 4: Take deep, steady breaths of fresh air
If you have company, asked for ventilation. If you’re alone and you can reach for either the window, fan or air conditioning. Make sure there’s plenty of air circulating inside the room where you are. While a heart attack causes panic, you should allow yourself to calm down. Getting panicky and tensed will only make it harder for your heart to pump blood.
Recall times that make you happy, play something on the radio or, ask somebody to talk to you on the phone and help calm you down. Whatever you do, try not to get to sleep. This helps you maintain your consciousness as you deliberately put in more effort into taking slow, deep breaths to help you relax as well as pump more oxygen in your blood.
What You Should Not Do During A Heart Attack
There are myths circulating about what to do during a heart attack that you must correct right now so it does not get you into more trouble in case you get to experience one. Listed below are just a handful of the things you must avoid doing:
1. Do not attempt cough CPR.
There has been a popular advice going around the Internet for some time about how deliberate coughing can help you survive a heart attack. According to the note, deep, prolonged and vigorous coughing “must be repeated about every two seconds without let-up until help arrives, or until the heart is felt to be beating normally again. Deep breaths get oxygen into the lungs and coughing movements squeeze the heart and keep the blood circulating.”
Experts, however, have disproved it. Some simply saying that it is ineffective during a heart attack although it may be helpful under more normal circumstances to get the heart back into its normal rhythm. Others claim that cough CPR can worsen the damage that can be possibly caused by heart attack.
2. Do Not Eat or Drink.
Keep in mind that now is not the time for you to be chewing on food or even drinking water even if you’re badly thirsting for a drink. Take your aspirin without water. Any food or drink in your system can add to the pressure you feel on your chest. Worse, it can also give first responders and health care providers a harder time to check on a series of tests for heart attack that you might be required to undergo or, even give them a harder time to administer proper care and medication.
3. Do Not Lose Patience.
Let the better side of you shine through. Keep your cool to calm your heart. The more you tense up, the harder your heart muscles become. Keeping a cool head also allows you the presence of mind to keep on top of your personal emergency and just keep doing the things that need to be done to prevent or minimize the damage being done to your precious heart.
Follow Up: What To Do After A Brush With Heart Attack?
When your health care provider confirms that you have indeed just gone through a life-threatening heart attack, it’s also a confirmation that you have one or a combination of several underlying heart problems such as a rheumatic heart disease. Your provider will ask you several questions and you will probably required to undergo a series of tests that will help screen you for signs of heart disease.
Make sure to ask your physician everything you think you need to know about your diagnosed condition. Make sure to also ask what you can do when you experience another episode. Strictly follow your physician’s orders, stick to your meds, and revamp your lifestyle to lower your risk of getting another heart attack.