February is known for its commemoration of love, which makes it the perfect month to raise awareness for all things related to heart health.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, and 92.1 million Americans are living with some form of heart disease. Nearly 790,000 people will have a heart attack this year, and odds are you know one of those people. Because heart attacks are so common it’s important to know what the symptoms are and how to respond when it happens.

Each individual may experience different signs and symptoms with a heart attack. Some may suffer severe pain while others experience a more mild pain; others show no signs at all. Some heart attacks take place suddenly, without any warning signs, but others experience the symptoms hours or even weeks in advance. Understanding the signs and symptoms of a heart attack could potentially save a life.

Common signs of a heart attack

Chest pain and discomfort – Most individuals who experience a heart attack experience a discomfort on the left side of the chest. The pain could last for some minutes, or it could go away and keep coming back. At times the pain may feel like a compression or a heavy pressure on the chest. Or, it could feel like indigestion or heartburn, which could lead to either mild or severe pain. The pain is caused by a temporary decrease in blood flow to the heart.

Shortened breath – To some people, this could be the only symptom, or it could happen along with chest pain. You may experience this sign as you rest or when doing physical activities.

Pain flows to the upper parts of the body – You may feel like the pain is moving from the chest to other parts of the body, such as the arms (especially the left arm), neck, back, and abdomen.

Other symptoms include

  • Cold Sweating
  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed
  • Feeling nausea and vomiting – this sign is mostly common with women
  • Fatigue

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you need to take a quick action before it worsens.


What to do if you or someone else is suffering from a heart attack

Call 911 or your local medical emergency medical services – Do not ignore or fail to act on the symptoms of a heart attack. Do not hesitate to call 911 or head directly to the nearest medical center.

Take aspirin – Quickly chew or swallow aspirin as it helps to thin blood and increase blood flow to the heart. Avoid taking aspirin if you have allergies, or your doctor advised you never to take aspirin.

Take nitroglycerin – If you have nitroglycerin in your house that was previously prescribed to you by a doctor and you suspect you have a heart attack, take them as prescribed. Take note: you should not take another person’s nitroglycerin as you won’t know how it will react in your body.

If you see someone else having a heart attack, try to help them as you wait for help from the medical emergency services.

Perform CPR if the person is unconscious – After calling 911 the dispatcher could advise you to start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to keep blood flowing, but if you have no experience, and you are not sure on how it is done, perform only chest compression without doing the mouth to mouth breathing. The compressions should be about 100 per minute. You may also ask the dispatcher to assist you with the procedure before help arrives.

To see if you are at risk for a heart attack visit CardioSmart.org.  If you are at risk for heart disease, please schedule an appointment with one of our providers as soon as possible. Request an appointment here.