Heart Attack: Spotting Symptoms and Taking Action

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Each year approximately 1.2 million Americans suffer a heart attack, and nearly one-third of these individuals die, many before they reach the hospital. People often dismiss heart attack warning signs, such as chest pain, and think they merely have heartburn or a pulled muscle. The unfortunate conclusion is that many people wait too long before getting help.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when a vessel supplying the heart muscle with blood and oxygen becomes completely blocked. Hardening of the arteries produces “plaque” that ruptures and causes a blood clot to form. This is the most common cause of heart attack. That part of the muscle will begin to die if the individual does not immediately seek medical attention.

Common heart attack symptoms include:

  • Chest discomfort: Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body: Can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath: Occurring with or before chest discomfort.
  • Other symptoms may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, unusual fatigue and/or light-headedness.

Women and heart attacks

Women often experience signs and symptoms that are different from those men experience. This is because smaller arteries may be blocked in women whereas men often have blockage in the main arteries.

Heart attack symptoms women may have include:

  • Pressure, fullness, squeezing pain in the center of the chest, spreading to the neck, shoulder or jaw
  • Light-headedness, fainting, sweating, nausea, or shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
  • Upper abdominal pressure or discomfort
  • Lower chest discomfort or back pain
  • Unusual fatigue

Don’t delay. Don’t take chances. If you have chest pain or other heart attack symptoms, call 9-1-1 and seek medical attention immediately.

To discuss your risk and preventive measures you can take, schedule an appointment with a UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute physician by calling 1-866-UH4-CARE (1-866-844-2273) or visiting UHhospitals.org/Heart.

More Information

To learn more about UH Women’s Health Institute, or to speak to a navigator, please call 440-720-3262.

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