Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

It can be jarring to experience chest pain and not know the cause. It appears in many forms, varying from a short, sharp stab to a long-lasting, dull ache. It may travel up the neck and into the jaw, to the back or stomach, or down one or both arms. Most of the time, a heart attack — or even a heart-related issue— is not to blame for the discomfort. In fact, 80 percent of people who come to the emergency room thinking they are having a heart attack are experiencing symptoms due to something else. 

For today’s blog post, let’s take a closer look at four warning signs of a heart attack.

1. Chest pain

Chest pain doesn’t have to be as dramatic as the movies make it seem; you won’t always clutch your chest and then collapse! In truth, a lot of reasons may lead to chest pain, like stress or a pulled muscle (more on that below). 

For a heart attack specifically, it usually starts with a low-grade pain that disappears and then reappears, much more intense, after a few hours. It is a constant pain, and nothing helps to relieve it. It usually spreads to your arms, jaw, and neck. Patients often report that it feels like they’re being crushed by a heavy weight.

2. Difficulty breathing

A feeling of suffocation or shortness of breath may begin shortly before the heart attack or at the same time, depending on the area of the heart that is impacted. It occurs when a clot blocks one of the heart’s arteries, which prevents the heart from properly pumping blood. If oxygenated blood cannot reach the lungs, an edema, or collection of fluid, forms, which suffocates the patient.

3. Stomach discomfort

We often associate a feeling of fullness and/or nausea with gastrointestinal problems or stress, not a heart attack. In this case, the nerve impulse that signals pain reaches other parts of the body. The stomach is close to the heart and even shares the same nerve supply — parasympathetic or vagal. Thus, it’s common to experience confusing symptoms like indigestion, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

4. Dizziness

Many survivors report feeling dizzy prior to their heart attack. When the heart cannot pump blood in or out or pumps blood randomly, the natural rhythm is disturbed, which lowers the blood pressure. Not enough blood reaches the brain, which can lead to dizziness, cold sweats, or even fainting.

In the absence of these four warning signs, your chest pain may not be a medical emergency.

Chest pain is less likely to be related to a heart problem if it occurs with:

Some examples of other types of chest pain include:

  • Aching that worsens when pressure is applied to the chest is bone and joint pain.
  • A pinch that lasts for a few seconds and then disappears is usually muscle-related pain.
  • If your pain increases with coughing, it usually means that the membrane covering the lungs (the pleura) is inflamed).
  • Chest pain that accompanies a period of intense fear or anxiety may be caused by a panic attack. Other symptoms include rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating, rapid breathing, nausea, dizziness, and a fear of dying. 

Although many different problems can cause chest pain, it’s important to seek immediate medical help and rule out life-threatening issues with your heart or lungs.

Contact Dr. Asha Tota-Maharaj, MD at Platinum Primary Care with all your healthcare needs. Come visit us at 2071 Dundee Drive in Winter Park.