Affecting one in four Americans, heart disease is not only a serious public health issue but also the leading cause of death in the U.S. The symptoms vary from person to person, and devastatingly, the signs may signal heart failure.
A myocardial infarction (what most people call a heart attack) happens when blood flow to the heart becomes blocked. This blockage is typically a buildup of cholesterol and fat, which creates a plaque that clogs the coronary arteries. The interruption of blood flow can severely damage or even destroy parts of the heart. If you are at risk, it is also important to know what foods to avoid with heart failure.
If you think you or someone else is suffering from a heart attack, call 911 right away. The occurrence is an emergency and can be fatal, though it’s possible to recover from one and potentially prevent it from happening at all.
Knowing what to look out for is crucial. At Alliance Homecare, we’re here to educate families on the symptoms and risk factors of heart failure. Read on for a rundown of heart attack warning signs.
Heart Attacks: What to Look Out For
What are the signs of an impending heart attack? Heart attacks can have more obvious precursors in some individuals, and yet for others, the signs may not be anything like what’s expected. Additionally, the warnings can happen suddenly and be very intense, but they can also be more subtle and often begin slowly.
The most common signals include chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, upper body discomfort, and lightheadedness. Some less common (or potentially unexpected) signs include nausea and indigestion, unexplained exhaustion, heart palpitations, cold sweats, and a lingering cough.
Chest Pain or Discomfort
Chest pain is one of the most obvious signs of an impending heart attack, but what many folks don’t realize is that mild to moderate discomfort is actually more common. The tenderness is usually felt in the center of the chest and lasts longer than a few minutes, though it can come and go. Additionally, it can occur at any time—while resting, driving, socializing, or exerting oneself.
Known medically as angina, the sensation can be a general feeling of discomfort or feel more like fullness, pressure, tightness, squeezing, burning, pinching, or heaviness—everyone describes it differently. Pain or discomfort in the chest could signal a blocked artery and potentially a forthcoming heart attack.
Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath is another common sign of an impending heart attack. It can occur on its own or in conjunction with chest pain or discomfort. The cardiovascular system is reliant on blood pumping to the heart, and when this function is blocked, it can restrict the flow of oxygen into the lungs.
As a result, people may experience difficulty breathing. An individual might have a hard time taking deep breaths, get winded after climbing a few stairs, or become quickly tired when standing or walking a short distance.
Upper Body Discomfort
When a heart attack is imminent, pain and discomfort are often not isolated to the chest area. It can spread all over the body, particularly in the upper extremities. A person might experience aching or tightness in their arms, shoulders, abdomen, back, neck, or jaw.
Since the heart is on the left, many people experience pain that percolates down the entire left side of the body. Also, while the discomfort typically begins in the chest and moves outward, some may only notice aches in their arms, back, or shoulders.
Momentary lightheadedness is one of the early symptoms of an impending heart attack. The sensation could make a person feel dizzy, unsteady, or as if they might pass out. In some cases, it may also cause them to faint. For those who suffer from heart disease, this would likely be a result of a drop in blood pressure because the heart is unable to operate properly.
It’s important to note that lightheadedness can happen for a number of reasons, like standing up too quickly, dehydration, or low blood sugar. However, when accompanied by chest discomfort, it could be an emergency situation and should be addressed by a medical professional as soon as possible.
Nausea and Indigestion
When heart attacks are depicted on TV and in movies, they often show the individual clutching their chest, experiencing sudden heart pain, or being unable to catch their breath. While chest pain and shortness of breath are among the most common signs, they’re far from the only red flags.
What many people don’t realize is that gastrointestinal issues can also be warning signs of a heart attack. This might include nausea, indigestion, abdominal cramping, or heartburn. Some people experience these symptoms leading up to a myocardial infarction, and others may become nauseous or even throw up during a heart attack.
Unexplained exhaustion can be a result of shortness of breath, which, as we explained, happens when a blockage prevents blood from flowing to the heart. If you or a loved one suddenly become winded, feel notably weak, are unable to perform an everyday task, or are extremely tired for no apparent reason, it could be a sign of an impending heart attack.
Heart palpitations are the sensation of a racing, pounding, or fluttering heart. Many folks describe it as their heart skipping a beat, though it might feel more like pounding or throbbing than an irregular heart rhythm.
It can occur for various reasons and is often not a cause for concern. However, as with many of the other less common signs of heart attacks, when combined with other symptoms, it’s best to see a doctor right away if you experience heart palpitations.
Sweating is a normal response to exertion or spending time in warm environments—it’s the body’s way of keeping itself cool. However, when a person sweats at rest or in an otherwise climate-controlled setting, it could be a cause for concern.
This is what’s called cold sweats, and it might be a sign of an impending heart attack. When clogged arteries make it difficult for blood to pump to the heart, it actually causes the body to exert itself internally in order to keep up. The effect can lead to perspiration (such as clammy skin, wet palms, or a full-body sweat) as the body attempts to stay cool amid all this extra effort.
A lingering cough can be a result of many things, like a viral illness, asthma, or a lung infection. In most instances, it’s not a sign of an impending heart attack.
However, if an individual has heart disease or is experiencing any of the above symptoms, it could be an urgent cause for concern. More specifically, a persistent cough that produces pink or white mucus might be a sign of heart failure.
Varying Heart Attack Symptoms
As mentioned above, heart attacks affect everyone differently. The warning signs are not always the same, and the severity of each symptom can vary greatly. Further, men and women often have dissimilar experiences with myocardial infarctions.
For instance, many women have heart attacks without experiencing any chest discomfort but rather nausea, shortness of breath, and back pain. Angina is more common for men who suffer myocardial infarctions, though the sensation is often mild enough that they aren’t immediately concerned.
When it comes to potential heart failure, it’s always best to play it safe. Know the symptoms of an impending heart attack and call 911 if you or an aging loved one experience any of the signs.
Home Health Care for Heart Failure Patients in New York
A heart attack is an urgent matter and should be treated as such. Having said that, there’s hope for individuals living with heart disease and those who’ve experienced a heart attack or stroke.
The care you receive can determine the difference between living with minor symptoms and coping with severe complications. In other words, proper management of heart disease, like specialty disease management services offered by Alliance Homecare, can make a senior’s quality of living substantially better. At Alliance Homecare in New York, we provide specialty services for aging adults suffering from chronic illnesses while giving them the support they need to continue living in the comfort of their own homes.