Get Help Quickly
Acting fast at the first sign of heart attack symptoms can save your life and limit damage to your heart. Treatment is most effective when started within one hour of the beginning of symptoms. Why? During a heart attack, if the blockage in the coronary artery isn't treated quickly, the heart muscle will begin to die and be replaced by scar tissue. This heart damage may not be obvious, or it may cause severe or long-lasting problems. Look for these common heart attack signs and symptoms:
- Chest discomfort or pain — uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that can be mild or strong. This discomfort or pain lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
- Upper body discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Shortness of breath may occur with or before chest discomfort.
- Other signs include nausea (feeling sick to your stomach), vomiting, lightheadedness or fainting, or breaking out in a cold sweat.
If you think you or someone you know may be having a heart attack:
- Call 9-1-1 within a few minutes — 5 minutes at the most — of the start of symptoms.
- If your symptoms stop completely in less than 5 minutes, still call your doctor.
- Only take an ambulance to the hospital. Going in a private car can delay treatment.
- Take a nitroglycerin pill if your doctor has prescribed this type of medicine.
- Take aspirin, if recommended. If you're concerned about your heart attack risk, ask your doctor if chewing an aspirin tablet if you have heart attack symptoms is a good idea. Taking aspirin during a heart attack could reduce the damage to your heart by making your blood less likely to clot. Aspirin can interact with other medications, however, so don't take an aspirin unless your doctor or emergency medical personnel recommend it.
- Acting fast, at the first symptoms of heart attack, can save your life. Medical personnel can begin diagnosis and treatment even before you get to the hospital.
The warning signs for men and women are different. Women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
About a third of women experience no chest pain at all when having a heart attack and 71% of women report flu-like symptoms for two weeks to a month prior to having more acute chest discomfort or severe shortness of breath.
Severe problems linked to heart attack can include heart failure and life-threatening arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood throughout the body. Ventricular fibrillation is a serious arrhythmia that can cause death if not treated quickly.
Each year, about 1.1 million people in the United States have heart attacks, and almost half of them die. Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), which often results in a heart attack, is the leading killer of both men and women in the United States, although many people survive heart attacks and live active and full lives.
The West Hills Hospital Emergency Department (Phone: (818) 676-4999), is accredited by the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care for excellence in emergency heart attack procedures. Our specialists provide the latest advances in heart failure, heart surgery, heart transplantation, heart attack interruption and rehabilitation.