Have you ever watched a TV show and seen an actor having a heart attack? They clutch their chest dramatically before falling over.
The Hollywood version of a heart attack does not reflect everyone’s experience. Some heart attacks start much more slowly, with only mild pain or discomfort. Others don’t involve any chest pain at all.
- Every 40 seconds, someone in the US has a heart attack.
- Every year, nearly 800,000 Americans have a heart attack.
- Nearly ¾ of heart attack cases are a person’s first heart attack.
- 1 in 5 heart attacks is silent — meaning the person isn’t aware it’s happening.
- The more time that passes without treatment for a heart attack, the greater the damage to the heart muscle.
5 Fast Facts About Heart Attacks
Your heart is responsible for pumping blood throughout your body. When you have a heart attack, that blood flow suddenly slows down. Without enough oxygen-rich blood, your heart muscle can eventually start to die. However, this damage can be limited — or completely prevented — by getting quick treatment.
If you or someone you know is having a heart attack, you should call 911 immediately — even if you’re not completely sure it’s a heart attack. The sooner you get to the emergency room, the sooner you can receive medical treatment that could save your life. The best way to prepare, though, is to familiarize yourself with the signs to look out for. With that in mind, here are the symptoms of a heart attack from head to toe.
Heart Attack Symptoms from Your Head to Your Toes
You might feel dizzy, nauseated, or light-headed during a heart attack. This is because of the altered or lack of blood flow to your head — just like the woozy feeling you may get if you stand up a little too quickly.
You may also feel unusually tired. For women, fatigue and disturbed sleep — even a month before the attack — is more common than chest pain. Some women may even have a hard time making the bed without resting, a sign that your body is working harder than it should.
Your Neck, Jaw, and Back
Pain or discomfort in the areas around your heart — your neck, jaw, and back — can be signs of a heart attack. This can be the result of your heart not getting enough oxygen.
A heart attack can also lead to a stroke, which is when the blood flow to the brain is cut off — sometimes referred to as a “brain attack.” Strokes are the fifth leading cause of death in the US. While some people completely recover, many survivors are left with some kind of disability, such as paralysis in some parts of the body or memory loss.
Your Arms and Shoulders
Because your arms and shoulders are close to your head, your brain might tell you that you are feeling pain in your arms when the problem is, in fact, in your heart. This is because your heart is suddenly losing oxygen.
You might feel arm pain from a heart attack in either arm or both arms, but some are more likely to feel it in the left arm.
Chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack — but some people may not feel chest pain at all.
In many cases, people experience pain in the center of the chest that can last a few minutes or go away and then come back. It can feel like squeezing, fullness, pain, or simply an uncomfortable pressure. Some people even describe chest pain from a heart attack as feeling like indigestion or heartburn.
Your Lungs and Stomach
Symptoms might not stop at your heart. They can affect your lungs and stomach, too, making it harder to breathe.
Even nausea and vomiting can be signs of a heart attack. This can be more common for women, but men can experience it, too.
You may also experience shortness of breath — like you just can’t catch your breath — with or without chest pain.
Heart Attacks in Women: How Are the Signs Different?
Women need to be on the lookout for these signs of a heart attack just as much as men. In fact, heart disease is the number one killer for women in the US.
Unfortunately, women don’t always seek medical treatment when they should. Sometimes, this is because they don’t experience as much intense chest pressure — or they have vague symptoms. Instead, they may experience more subtle signs of a heart attack, such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Pressure in the lower chest or upper abdomen
- Lightheadedness or fainting
- Extreme fatigue
Women may chalk this up to having the flu, acid reflux, or normal signs of aging.
Even though these symptoms might be more subtle, that doesn’t mean the heart attacks are less severe. And dismissing the symptoms can lead to delays in care, which can mean long-term damage to your health.
But the good news is that when women do seek care, they are just as likely to limit the damage of a heart attack by getting to the emergency room immediately.
Don’t Hesitate: Get Treatment Immediately
Whether you’re a man or a woman, when it comes to a heart attack, the most important thing to remember is that the sooner you get treatment, the less damage a heart attack can do. Even if you’re unsure if what you’re experiencing is a heart attack, it’s better to be safe and get checked by a medical professional immediately.
Some people are at a higher risk of a heart attack, such as people who:
- Are 65 or older
- Have a family history of heart disease
- Have high cholesterol or high blood pressure
- Are obese — especially if the excess weight is at the waistline
- Have diabetes
If you know that a loved one is at high risk, make sure you’re on the lookout for these symptoms and have a plan in place if they do have a heart attack, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Every second matters during a heart attack. If you act quickly, you may be able to save lives, including your own.
Got questions about the signs of a heart attack? Call (785) 270-4440 to set up an appointment with a Stormont Vail primary care provider or call (785) 270-4000 to set up an appointment with a cardiologist at the Cotton O’Neil Heart Center.