Why it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack
Signs and symptoms of a heart attack can get muddied in our ever quickening pace of society. It seems as if we have become accustomed to feeling tired and “run down.” We unconsciously have conditioned ourselves to downplay our physical feelings and push ourselves while our body tries to tell us to slow down. Unfortunately the suppression of our bodies’ natural signs can cloud our thoughts and judgement, sometimes to the point of being almost too late to react.
As a paramedic and health care provider, we have what are known as “signs and symptoms” of common conditions drilled into our thought process. One of these common emergency conditions is a myocardial infarction, or heart attack. When someone is experiencing a heart attack, an emergency situation is occurring. The signs and symptoms of a heart attack can occur suddenly and need rapid recognition for prompt treatment. Remember the phrase “time is muscle” when someone is experiencing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
Ok, what should we look for?
The “classic” signs and symptoms of a heart attack are well known:
- Chest pain
- A “squeezing” or “pressure” sensation in the chest
- Radiation of pain into the shoulders, arms or jaw
- Shortness of breath, especially at rest
- Nausea and or vomiting
- Diaphoresis, or “breaking out in a cold sweat”
- Syncope, or “passing out”
If someone has these “classic” signs and symptoms, it will trigger an alarm to look closer at the heart. We as providers would look for specific signs of myocardial ischemia or injury, as well as begin a treatment plan should a cardiac emergency be present.
What are the other signs and symptoms of a heart attack?
Anecdotally, men tend to have more of the “classic” crushing chest pain or pressure. Signs and symptoms of heart attacks in women tend to be more subtle, however chest pain remains the most prevalent. Other, less profound, signs and symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Generalized weakness, sometimes for multiple days
- Generalized ill feeling
- Excessive tiredness
- Pain into the back not related to injury or chronic pain
What should I do if someone has these signs or symptoms?
If someone has the “classic” signs and symptoms of a heart attack, or has become unconscious, a medical emergency is happening. 911 or your local emergency medical service should be activated. When EMS or your emergency response team are activated, be prepared to inform them of the specific signs and symptoms of a heart attack that lead you to call. Modern “ALS,” or Advanced Life Support, is generally available by paramedics. Rapid intervention by ALS providers allows a greater chance of survival and helps speed up the treatment process.
The signs and symptoms of heart attack are scary not only for the patient, but also for their family. When a heart attack is occurring, the treatment process moves very quickly and sometimes without much warning or information. The best way to reduce the anxiety and uncertainty is to remain proactive. Remaining healthy, recognizing and treating risk factors, and open communication with a primary care physician are key to reducing the risk of a heart attack.
Again, why is this so important?
The signs and symptoms of a heart attack are often dismissed, and excuses are common. The signs and symptoms of a heart attack are important and should not be ignored. A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, is damage to the muscle of the heart. When the blood flow supplying the heart is compromised, the signs and symptoms of a heart attack tend to appear. When the signs and symptoms of a heart attack do appear, this is a strong indicator that the muscle and heart itself are at risk of damage and death. The signs and symptoms of a heart attack normally occur during an acute event and without quick intervention, irreparable damage can quickly occur.
Why are there so many different signs and symptoms of a heart attack?
Each and every person’s body react differently to changes and stressors. Even within the same patient population, the signs and symptoms of a heart attack can vary. These differences are results of how that individual can adapt to the acute change and how much reserve they have to continue adapting. The signs and symptoms of a heart attack also vary due to the severity, or size, of the heart attack. No heart attack is a good heart attack, however the quicker treatment is provided, the better chance of less long-term damage to the myocardium.
As with any medical condition, any specific questions should be referred to the patient’s primary physician.