Cardiovascular disease, which often leads to heart attacks, is the leading cause of death across the globe.
A heart attack happens when there is a sudden complete blockage of an artery that supplies blood to an area of your heart. If the blockage is left untreated for too long, the heart muscle becomes damaged and can be permanent if not treated quickly.
Getting early medical attention and knowing the warning signs of a heart attack is crucial to increasing your chance of survival. The good news is that the symptoms of a heart attack are often noticed hours or days before the attack occurs – provided you know what to look for.
So, how can you tell if you are having a heart attack? Heart attack symptoms can vary, but here are some of the warning signs you shouldn’t ignore.
Early Signs Light-headedness, nausea and a feeling of breaking out in a cold sweat are common early signs of a heart attack. You may also experience shortness of breath, choking and vomiting. Pressure in the upper back is also a sign.
Pains Severe chest pains are the most obvious symptom of a heart attack; however, they are not always present. The pain could present as a sharp stabbing pain, a tightness in the chest, or a feeling of intense indigestion. It can also be in the arms, shoulders, back, and neck, though these symptoms are more likely to appear in women. Some may not even experience pain at all; but rather a discomfort.
Angina Angina may present with similar symptoms to a heart attack, but it is often only temporary discomfort brought on by exertion or distress. It will go away after a few minutes rest or with medicine as prescribed by your doctor and does not damage the heart muscle. On the other hand, heart attacks happen anytime, anywhere, during exertion or rest and they do damage to the heart muscle. It is important to pay attention to this, as having angina can lead to future heart attacks if not addressed appropriately by medical professionals.
Remember, the symptoms of a heart attack can come on quite suddenly or they can come on slowly over time. They usually last around 10 minutes overall and you may only get one or two symptoms or all of them. Every heart attack is different, and if you have had one previously, it is highly likely the next one will not be the same.
The Heart Foundation has free resources and information available to Australians on understanding heart attacks and cardiovascular health.
If you do have signs of a heart attack, here are three steps to take:
STOP what you’re doing and rest
TALK with someone about how you’re feeling. Call 13 HEALTH, talk to your partner or children, and if your symptoms get worse;
CALL 000 and ask for an ambulance. Don’t hang up the phone.