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Know the Warning Signs to Stop a Heart Attack in its Tracks

Recognizing a heart attack when it happens is not always easy. We’ve all seen TV shows or movies where a character has a heart attack: In most scenarios, he suddenly clutches his chest—a look of pain on his face—and falls to the ground in agony. It’s not surprising that most Americans think this is how a heart attack happens.

In reality, the symptoms of a heart attack can be much more subtle and present in different ways in men versus women. The basic clues of a possible heart attack can be the same for both sexes: A feeling of pressure or tightness in the chest and/or pain in the chest, back, jaw, arms, or neck, but additional symptoms can be quite different.

Men typically exhibit shortness of breath, unusual fatigue, general weakness, dizziness, and a cold sweat. A study published in the American Journal of Critical Care in 2008 found that men reported more severe chest pain than women. Chest pain can come on fast or slow and last several minutes. Unfortunately, the majority of men wait as much as six hours after such symptoms arise to call an ambulance as discovered in a 2010 study from the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing.

Women may also exhibit shortness of breath and unusual fatigue, but may also experience anxiety, severe indigestion, and sleep disturbance. The shortness of breath can be alarming. Many describe it as feeling like they’ve run a marathon without having taken a single step. Anxiety can come on suddenly—as if you’re having a panic attack for no reason at all. Some women describe upper back pressure that feels like squeezing or a rope being tied around them. Alarmingly, an Oregon study found that up to 95% of women experience early warning signals weeks or even months leading up to their cardiac event.

No matter your gender, if you experience any of these symptoms call 911. So often heart patients say they delayed calling for medical help because they didn’t want to look foolish if the indigestion they felt was simply heart burn. Many simply aren’t aware of the warning signs of a heart attack and just wait for the symptoms to go away. In particular, women don’t speak up when experiencing these symptoms because they don’t want to disturb others!

The providers at CCHC Heart and Vascular Specialists urge you to be aware of the basic heart attack symptoms—don’t wait for them to get worse. The earlier a patient receives medical assistance, the greater his or her chance of survival.

For more information on keeping your heart healthy or to schedule an appointment to discuss any heart concerns you may have, contact the caring providers of CCHC Heart and Vascular Specialists at 252-63-HEART (634-3278).