Heart disease remains the leading cause of death for men and women worldwide. Contrary to what you might see in a movie, the signs of a heart attack can be hard to miss. Noel Byrey Mears, MD, director of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, C.D.
Although symptoms such as chest tightness and upper body pain are more obvious, heart attacks present a host of symptoms that can be mistaken for another illness (think nausea, heartburn, and fatigue). Identifying the signs of a heart attack and seeking early intervention can be the difference between life or death. Here are the most common symptoms to look out for.
- Uncomfortable pressure.
The first symptom of a heart attack listed by the American Heart Association is “uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of your chest.” This discomfort may come in waves that last for more than a few minutes at a time.
- Pain in other areas of the body.
Heart attack pain can occur in places other than the chest, such as the back, shoulders, arms, neck, or jaw. According to the Cleveland Clinic, when there is a problem with the heart, such as a blocked artery, this can trigger nerves in your heart to give a signal that something is wrong, and you will feel pain. Given that the vagus nerve is connected not only to the heart but also to the brain, chest, abdomen, and neck, you may feel these pain signals in other areas of the body other than the heart area.
Many things can make you dizzy: not drinking enough water, skipping lunch, or standing up too quickly. But dizziness or lightheadedness accompanied by chest pain and shortness of breath may indicate a drop in blood volume and a drop in blood pressure, which means a heart attack may be on its way.
Feeling exhausted after a sleepless night or stressful day is normal. But a woman can feel exhausted for a month before she has a heart attack, according to a Harvard Health Publishing report. According to the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute, this sign is particularly prominent in women.
- Nausea or indigestion.
According to Stony Brook Medicine, stomach symptoms such as a full stomach, vomiting, or belching develop when the heart and other areas of the body do not receive enough blood. It can be misjudged as acid reflux or heartburn, so it’s important to communicate with your doctor, especially if you’re experiencing other symptoms of a heart attack.
Unless you’re in menopause or you’ve just exercised, a cold sweat or excessive sweating can signal a heart attack. During a heart attack, your nervous system activates a “fight or flight” response that puts you in survival mode and can lead to sweating.
- Heart palpitations.
When the heart lacks an adequate blood supply, all sorts of things can happen in the body. According to Stoney Brook Medicine, the heart can begin to agitate when it lacks blood full of nutrients, leading to the sensation of heart palpitations. If you feel that you are experiencing heart palpitations, be sure to contact your doctor immediately.
- Shortness of breath.
Climbing stairs used to be a breeze, but if you’ve been finding it difficult to climb lately, seek medical attention immediately. Although this does not necessarily mean that you are about to have a heart attack at this moment, it may be a sign that your heart is in danger. According to the AHA, shortness of breath can come with or without any chest pain.