About every 34 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack, according to the American Heart Association. Many people survive it, go back to work and enjoy a normal life. But the fact that heart attacks are one of the common causes of sudden deaths every year cannot be taken lightly.
Also known as myocardial infarction or acute myocardial infarction (AMI), a heart attack occurs when blood stops flowing properly to the heart and the heart muscles become injured due to not receiving enough oxygen. There are many warning signs of a heart attack that can help prevent a major disaster.
Some of the most common warning signs of a heart attack for both men and women are:
- Sudden Chest Pain: One may experience sudden chest pain or discomfort that mostly occurs in the center or left side of the chest. Such pain and discomfort usually lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. One may even feel like there is pressure, squeezing and fullness in the chest. Often people think that they have heartburn or indigestion.
- Discomfort in Upper Body Parts: One may have some kind of discomfort in the upper body parts. There may be pain in one or both arms, the back, shoulders, neck, jaw or upper part of the stomach.
- Shortness of Breath: One may even feel short of breath or have difficulty breathing due to a tight or constricted feeling in the chest. This may occur before or along with chest pain, while at rest or during physical activity.
- Dizziness: One may experience dizziness or light-headedness.
- Cold Sweat: One may break out in a cold sweat without any apparent reason.
Other possible warning signs of a heart attack include feeling tired for no reason, nausea, vomiting, restlessness, intense anxiety or a fear of death, and a general feeling of being unwell.
The warning signs can vary from person to person. In fact, the signs vary so much that many people do not even realize they are having symptoms of a heart attack.
Also, chest pain may not be the most obvious symptom in women as they are more likely to experience other symptoms such as unusual fatigue, abdominal discomfort like indigestion, nausea, pressure or pain in the neck, shoulder, or upper back, etc.
Some people are at a higher risk of heart disease and heart attacks. Common risk factors include:
- Abnormal blood levels of certain lipids
- High blood pressure
- Lack of physical activity
- Chronic kidney disease
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Use of cocaine and amphetamines
There are many simple lifestyle and dietary changes that can help prevent or reduce the risk of a heart attack.
Here are some tips:
- Eat a well-balanced, healthy diet.
- Exercise daily.
- Get quality sleep of 6 to 7 hours daily.
- If you have diabetes, take all the necessary measures to keep it under control.
- Quit smoking. Even second-hand smoke can be dangerous for your heart.
- Limit your alcohol intake.
- Keep your blood cholesterol and blood pressure at safe levels.
- If you are overweight, take steps to lose weight.
- Reduce stress in your life.
What to do if you are having symptoms
If you experience warning signs of a heart attack for more than 10 minutes, you must take necessary steps. Remember that if blood flow isn’t restored quickly, some sections of heart muscle begin to die, thus causing severe or long-lasting problems such as heart failure. Some immediate measures to take are:
- Seek emergency medical care, even if you are not sure it is a heart attack. If it is, this will give you the best chance of survival and recovery.
- Avoid driving at this time. Ask someone to drive you to the hospital or wait for the ambulance as it is the best and safest way to get to the hospital.
- Do not panic. Stay calm by taking deep, slow breaths.
- Open the doors and windows of the room to get some fresh air, which can help with breathing.
- If you are not allergic to aspirin, you can chew an aspirin. This can lessen the damage to your heart by inhibiting platelets.
Every minute matters when you or someone else is having a heart attack. Acting fast after noticing warning signs can limit damage to one’s heart and save a precious life.