Signs of Heart Attack That Many Patients Don't Know

Nearly half of heart patients don't fully grasp the symptoms of an attack. Make sure you know them.

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Monday's news that many people with heart disease may be lacking in their knowledge about the signs of a heart attack led U.S. News to believe the general public might benefit from a refresher, too. In fact, two colleagues recently wrote that both sexes could stand to be a bit more heart aware: Deborah Kotz blogged about how women having heart attacks are often slow to get help, and Adam Voiland noted that a not-so-subtle clue, erectile dysfunction, might be a sign of heart disease or diabetes. Vincent Bufalino, cardiologist and spokesman for the American Heart Association, offers up the must-know information that could save your ticker—and your life—should a heart attack strike.

Signs and symptoms that could indicate a heart attack include:

  • Exertion-related discomfort—say, going up the stairs or carrying a heavy box—such as pressure, burning, squeezing, or tightness in the chest
  • Radiating pain or pressure into either arm, the neck, or the jaw
  • Breathlessness along with profound fatigue or exhaustion. (Women, in particular, tend to experience these more subtle signs.)

If you develop any of these symptoms, it means you should call 9-1-1 right away, says Bufalino. "We don't want people driving in [to the hospital] and having a sudden cardiac event in the car where nothing can be done." That goes for having a worried spouse ferry you to the hospital, too. Significant damage can be avoided the sooner you get medical help.

And don't try to tough it out, either, says Bufalino. "You don't need that elephant standing on your chest to come in." If you're downing antacids because you think you're having heartburn but the burning isn't subsiding, make that call for medical help. It can't hurt to pop an aspirin while you're waiting, he adds. "The paramedics will give you aspirin first thing."

Brush up on your cardiovascular knowledge by visiting:

  • Our heart center for further info, video, and discussion about your ticker.
  • Our resident get-fit guru, Katherine Hobson, at her On Fitness blog, to find tips for decreasing your cardiovascular risk.