Warning Signs of a Heart Attack - FamilyEducation

Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

Spot the signs of heart failure before it's too late.

Heart attacks can really be divided into two separate conditions: angina and myocardial infarction.

Angina is temporary pain that can be caused a spasm in the heart's coronary arteries. It is usually the result of an inadequate blood flow to the heart caused by overexertion of the heart combined with a build-up of cholesterol. Rest and/or nitroglycerin pills placed under the tongue can get halt pain from angina within five minutes. Most people who are prone to angina carry nitroglycerin pills with them at all times. Angina usually occurs during exertion or exercise. If it occurs when a person is at rest, it could be a sign of a possible heart attack. The person should seek medical help immediately.

Myocardial infarction (MI) and cardiovascular disease (CVS) are other names for a heart attack. Here, a piece of the heart muscle is actually destroyed when a coronary artery becomes closed and completely “shuts down.” Heart attacks do not occur only during periods of overexertion (while shoveling snow, for example); these serious heart attacks might occur several hours after a strenuous situation, exercise, or heavy meal, while a person is at rest. In fact, many heart attacks occur early in the morning (around 6:00 am), when the body is gearing up to start the day. If pain wakes you up in the morning, it's a serious warning sign of a possible heart attack. Seek medical help immediately!

The terrible, crushing pressure of heart pain occurs because blood and its life-giving oxygen cannot reach the heart muscle because of a clogged artery. The following symptoms can indicate a heart attack. If a person near you has any of these symptoms call for help and begin first aid measures immediately.

First Things First

It's difficult to exactly describe pressure or pain in the chest. Some people describe it as a “tightness” or a “crushing feeling” or like a “herd of elephants trampling over my heart.”

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, or pain in the center of the chest that lasts for more than two minutes.
  • Pain that spreads out to the shoulders, neck, jaw, arms, and stomach.
  • Gasping or shortness of breath that gets worse when lying flat.
  • "Heartburn" pain that doesn't improve with antacids.
  • Chest pain combined with lightheadedness, severe anxiety, heavy sweating, pale skin and bluish lips, irregular or rapid pulse, or nausea.

Chest pain doesn't always mean a heart attack. In fact, most chest pains aren't heart attacks at all, but are merely symptoms of indigestion, muscle strain, shingles, or respiratory ailments. However, if any of the “red flags” appear, it's better to be embarrassed in the emergency room than to be…well, dead.

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