Heart attack, or its official name, myocardial infarction, affects about 735,000 Americans each year. Heart disease – including heart attacks – is the number one killer among men and women annually, with most of the deaths from heart attacks caused by ventricular fibrillation of the heart that occurs before the victim can reach an emergency room.
The good news is thanks to modern treatment, the survival rate among those who reach the emergency room in time exceeds 90-percent.
So how do you know you’re having an actual heart attack? Here are seven signs you need to be aware of that could help save your life:
Rapid, Pounding, Or Irregular Heartbeat
Unexplained bouts of a rapid, irregular heartbeat and pulse that seemingly come out of nowhere can predate a heart attack by weeks or even months. An irregular heartbeat accompanied by an increase in the number of beats per minute (also known as supraventricular and ventricular tachycardia) can indicate a serious problem and you should contact your doctor. If you experience this after exercise and it isn’t your normal elevated heart rate, call your doctor. Ventricular tachycardia that occurs particularly after exercise is closely associated with sudden death so do not delay in getting immediate help!
Nausea, Stomachache, And Indigestion
If you’ve been battling stomachache, nausea, or indigestion without any obvious cause, you might be mistakenly assuming it’s a gastrointestinal problem. Blockages of fat deposits in an artery can reduce or cut off the blood supply to the heart completely, causing angina, which feels like squeezing, cramping, or pain. Although angina is associated with chest pain, in many cases the body sends those pain signals down into the abdomen. Poor circulation and lack of oxygen circulating in the blood can lead to ongoing nausea, indigestion, or vomiting, particularly in women or those over 60. Women are less likely to go to the emergency room, which is one reason 42-percent of women who suffer heart attacks die within a year compared to 24-percent of men. Don’t try and tough it out, ladies; it could be a legitimate matter of life or death.
Excessive fatigue that lasts for days, weeks or even months can signal heart trouble months before a heart attack happens. Not your normal “I overdid it this week,” fatigue, but debilitating fatigue that leaves you feeling like you have the flu kind of fatigue. Over 70-percent of women who have had a heart attack reported extreme fatigue leading up to it.
Anxiety Attacks And Insomnia
Changes in the heart due to heart disease will decrease oxygen levels and set off subtle changes that lead to anxiety, insomnia, and irritability that can’t be explained away. Those who have suffered a heart attack reflect back to weeks and months prior and realize they developed anxiety and sleeping issues. Studies in both Circulation and the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found an association between symptoms of severe anxiety and the risk of fatal heart disease.
Pain In The Shoulder, Neck, Jaw, Or Arm
Of course, chest pain is the tell-tale sign of a heart attack, but other signs can be missed when they mimic shoulder, neck, arm, or jaw pain. Damaged heart tissue or angina sends pain signals up and down the spinal cord to nerves that radiate out from the cervical vertebrae. This pain could appear all along the torso and may be sharp or feel dull, like from a sore muscle. Doctors are now focusing on this precursor after an overwhelming number of patients reported this pain was the only kind noticed in the days or weeks leading up to their heart attack.