A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked, most often by a build-up of fat, cholesterol and other substances, which form a plaque in the arteries that feed the heart (coronary arteries). The interrupted blood flow can damage or destroy part of the heart muscle.[pq]A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted or severely reduced, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die.[/pq]
Heart attack and stroke are among the leading causes of death in the country. When it comes to these two life-threatening conditions, every minute counts. Knowing the signs and symptoms of these health threats is absolutely critical. If you think you or someone else might be having a heart attack or stroke, get medical help right away. Acting fast could save your life or someone else’s.
Heart attack warning signs
- Chest discomfort or pain. This discomfort or pain can feel like a tight ache, pressure, fullness or squeezing in your chest lasting more than a few minutes. This discomfort may come and go.
- Upper body pain. Pain or discomfort may spread beyond your chest to your shoulders, arms, back, neck, teeth or jaw. You may have upper body pain with no chest discomfort..
- Stomach pain. Pain may extend downward into your abdominal area and may feel like heartburn.
- Shortness of breath. You may pant for breath or try to take in deep breaths. This often occurs before you develop chest discomfort, or you may not experience any chest discomfort.
- Anxiety. You may feel a sense of impending doom or feel as if you’re having a panic attack for no apparent reason.
- Lightheadedness. In addition to chest pressure, you may feel dizzy or feel like you might pass out.
- Sweating. You may suddenly break into a sweat with cold, clammy skin.
- Nausea and vomiting. You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit.
Heart attack symptoms in women, elderly and people with diabetes
Women may have all, none, many or a few of the typical heart attack symptoms. While some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest is still a common symptom of a heart attack in women, many women have heart attack symptoms without chest pain, such as:
- Pain in the back, shoulders or jaw
- Shortness of breath
- Abdominal pain or “heartburn”
- Nausea or vomiting
- Unusual or unexplained fatigue, possibly for days
Elderly people and people with diabetes may have no or very mild symptoms of a heart attack, so it’s especially important not to dismiss heart attack symptoms in people with diabetes and older adults even if they don’t seem serious.
- Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding
- Sudden difficulty in seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden difficulty in walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
– Eric Michael Santos, Medical Observer