The No. 1 cause of death in both men and women is heart disease. Heart attacks do not always happen like they do in the movies. Heart attacks can happen suddenly or silently, but warning signs may occur for many people hours, days or weeks in advance. Knowing these signs and symptoms can help you save your life or the life of someone you love.
What are the signs to look out for?
Here are some of the most common signs of a heart attack that you may experience a month before the actual event:
1. Frequent chest pain
- Chest pain or discomfort is one of the most common signs of a heart attack. It may feel like a pressure or tightness in the chest, or like someone is squeezing your chest. The pain may also radiate to your arms, neck, jaw, back, or stomach and is often associated with shortness of breath, sweating, nausea or vomiting.
- If you experience chest pain or discomfort that lasts for more than a few minutes, seek medical attention right away. Don't wait to see if it goes away on its own, as this could be a sign of a heart attack. It's important to note that not everyone who has a heart attack experiences chest pain, and some people may only have mild or no symptoms at all.
- Feeling tired or worn out after a stressful day or restless night is typical, but this is another common sign of a heart attack. You may feel like you're more tired than usual, or like you cannot seem to get enough rest. This may be due to a decrease in blood flow to your heart, which causes the heart to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. Approximately 70% of women experience fatigue before a heart attack.
- You can feel lightheaded or dizzy for several reasons such as skipping a meal or dehydration, but it can also be a sign of a heart attack. If the dizziness is combined with chest pain or shortness of breath, a heart attack could be imminent.
- You may feel like you're going to faint, or like the room is spinning. This can be due to a decrease in blood flow to the brain or an irregular rhythm caused by a heart attack.
4. Indigestion or nausea
- Abdominal pain occurs in over 50% of heart attacks in both males and females. The symptoms may include an upset stomach, nausea with an empty or full stomach or feeling bloated. This can be due to the body's response to a lack of oxygen in the blood. Acid reflux or heartburn are also symptoms of a heart attack that are overlooked. Listen to what your body is telling you, if something feels unusual seek medical attention right away.
- Unless you are going through menopause or have just completed an exercise, sweating excessively or breaking out in a cold sweat could be a sign a heart attack is looming. When your body is in trouble, it will go into fight or flight mode as a response to the stress, and this can lead to sweating.
6. Swelling in the legs, ankles and/or feet
- Unusual swelling in the legs, ankles or feet can be a sign blood is not pumping properly throughout the body.
7. Irregular heartbeat
- If you drink too much coffee in the morning, you may feel as if your heart is beating quickly. In rare occasions, this can be a symptom of atrial fibrillation, a medical condition also referred to as afib. When the heart is not receiving enough blood, every part of the body is affected, and many things can go wrong as a side effect.
8. Pain in other parts of your body
- Although chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack, you may also experience pain or discomfort in other areas of your body. This can include your arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach. The pain may feel like pressure, squeezing or fullness, and may come and go or last for several minutes or more. Your body is smart and sends signals throughout the body when your heart is in trouble.
9.Shortness of breath
- Shortness of breath is another common sign of a heart attack. You may feel like you can't catch your breath, or like you're having trouble breathing. You may also experience wheezing or coughing. This can happen when your heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet your body's needs. Shortness of breath may also be accompanied by chest pain or discomfort, fatigue, dizziness or nausea.
- If you're having trouble breathing, seek medical attention right away. Shortness of breath can be a sign of many different health issues, but it's always better to be safe than sorry.
What should I do if I am experiencing symptoms of a heart attack?
If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, it's important to seek medical attention immediately. The longer you wait to get treatment, the more damage can be done to your heart. Here are the steps you should take:
- Call emergency services: Dial 911 immediately and request an ambulance.
- Take aspirin: If you have aspirin on hand and are not allergic to it, chew and swallow one 325-milligram tablet while waiting for emergency services. This can help to reduce the risk of blood clotting and improve blood flow to the heart.
- Rest: Try to stay calm and rest while you wait for emergency services to arrive. Avoid physical activity, which can strain your heart. Sit down, rest and take deep, slow breaths.
- Provide information: When the emergency medical team arrives, provide them with as much information as possible about your symptoms, medical history and any medications you are taking.
Symptoms of a heart attack can include chest pain, discomfort or pressure in the chest, shortness of breath, nausea, sweating, lightheadedness or dizziness and pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach. It is important to take any potential symptoms of a heart attack seriously and seek medical attention immediately.
How to reduce the risk of a heart attack occurring
There are several things you can do to reduce your risk of having a heart attack. A few of these include:
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Eat a balanced and healthy diet, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week.
- Quit smoking: If you smoke, quit as soon as possible. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease and quitting can significantly reduce your risk.
- Manage health conditions: Keep conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes under control with proper medication and lifestyle changes.
- Reduce stress: Manage stress through relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises. High levels of stress can increase your risk of a heart attack.
In addition, it is important to have regular check-ups with your healthcare provider to monitor your overall health and assess your risk for heart disease. Following these steps can significantly reduce your risk of a heart attack and promote a healthy heart.