Health Break

Health Break | Everyone should be aware of heart attack signs

February 11, 2013 

Do you think you may be having a heart attack? If you ever find yourself asking this question, you should call 911.

“Heart attack signs” is one of the most common searches on the Internet, according to Google, and this data has increased by 90 percent in the past several years. It’s important to know the signs of a heart attack before you experience one so you can receive treatment as soon as possible after the onset of symptoms.

Lately, the media and many health associations have suggested that women and men have different symptoms; however, my experience has shown that women and men actually experience the same constellation of symptoms but they may perceive them differently.

The most common symptom of a heart attack for men and women is chest pain, but women tend to describe the feeling in another way. Women may not have the classic “crushing chest pain” but more of an uncomfortable feeling in the center or left side of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. In addition to chest pain or discomfort, women typically experience other symptoms, such as pain radiating to their arm, back, neck, and abdomen and/or shoulder blades, as well as jaw pain, nausea and vomiting.

Additionally, women often question whether they are indeed having a heart attack, and sometimes they are likely to ignore the symptoms. One reason is that women may attribute the symptoms to other factors such as getting older, hot flashes or the flu — or they may even think they’re too young to have a heart attack. In fact, in an American Heart Association study, only half of women said they would call 911 if they thought they could be having a heart attack — even when they experience the classic symptom of chest pain. This may occur because many women are more concerned about the well-being of their family and friends than their own feelings and symptoms.

In the end, it’s important to understand all of the warning signs of a heart attack — whether you’re a man or a woman. The typical symptoms include:

• chest pain or discomfort that doesn’t go away;

• pain that may be in the chest, neck, jaw, shoulders, arms or back;

• sudden discomfort or pain that does not ease with rest;

• pain that may feel like burning, squeezing, heaviness, tightness or pressure;

• shortness of breath or difficulty breathing;

• nausea, indigestion or vomiting;

• sweating;

• extreme fatigue; and

• dizziness or lightheadedness.

Dr. James Gerardo is a cardiologist at Mount Nittany Physician Group.

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