Early Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

Someone in the United States has a heart attack every 40 seconds. And they aren't all the chest-clutching, drop-to-the-floor stereotypes you see on television.
Early Warning Signs of a Heart Attack
How to Recognize Early Warning Signs

The classic symptom of a heart attack is crushing chest pain or heaviness behind the sternum. However, people may experience more subtle symptoms, according to Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Mouin Abdallah, MD, director of the coronary artery disease center. Recognizing those warning signs may save a life.
Early signs of a heart attack

While most heart attacks are sudden and unmistakable, some may occur gradually, according to Dr. Abdallah. Some of the most common early warning signs are:
  • Tightness or pressure in the chest (rather than pain).
  • Arm, jaw, neck, or back pain.
  • Sweats that are cold.
  • Breathing difficulty.
  • Nausea.
  • Unusual exhaustion.

These subtle signs can affect anyone, young or old, male or female, though women are more likely to experience them.

Heart attack treatment... don't hesitate.

People who notice some of these subtle signs are frequently hesitant to go to the hospital. After all, nausea and neck pain can have less serious causes. And the feeling that something "isn't quite right?" That's frustratingly ambiguous and difficult to explain to a doctor.

However, if you suspect you are having a heart attack, it is preferable to act quickly and early.

A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is interrupted, causing damage to the heart muscle. Heart tissue will begin to die if not treated immediately. "Time is muscle," says Dr. Abdallah. "The sooner your doctor begins treatment, the better."

Doctors can use medications and procedures to clear obstructions and restore blood flow to the heart. And, he adds, such therapy has gotten better and more effective over time. "One of the great interventions in the history of medicine has been the treatment of heart attacks."

Are you in danger of having a heart attack?

You may be more likely to have a heart attack if you have:

  • Obesity.
  • Diabetes.
  • A smoking history.
  • A history of heart disease or had a previous heart attack.
  • High blood pressure or cholesterol levels.
  • Heart disease runs in the family.

If you fall into any of these categories, be especially cautious if you experience any vague symptoms that could be related to your heart.

Even if you're young and healthy, Dr. Abdallah advises knowing the symptoms of a heart attack and acting quickly if you notice them. You must go to the hospital to benefit from modern medicine's life-saving treatments. "When in doubt, go to the emergency room," he advises.