It’s midnight and you are sitting bolt upright in bed. There’s a painful sensation in your chest and a sour taste in your mouth. Maybe you feel a little nauseous, maybe there’s some pain in your shoulder and neck. Are you feeling the effects of that last trap you hauled and the cheeseburger and onion rings you had for supper? Or is it something more worrisome, like a heart attack?
February is American Heart Month, a perfect time to ask yourself, “Would I know what to do in the event of a heart attack?” According to the Centers for Disease Control, someone in the U.S. has a heart attack every 40 seconds. Annually 605,000 people suffer their first heart attack. Sometimes they don’t even know they have had a heart attack: 1 in 5 heart attacks are silent meaning damage is done to the heart, but the person is not aware of it.
A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is severely reduced or blocked. A blockage can be due to the buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances in the heart arteries, known as plaques. A plaque can rupture and form a clot in the artery which then blocks blood flow to the heart muscle.
The signs of heartburn are not the same as a heart attack. Heartburn triggers a burning pain in the chest, just behind the breastbone. The pain is often worse after eating, in the evening, or when lying down or bending over. Heartburn does not cause neck and shoulder pain.
Symptoms of a heart attack may include discomfort in the center of the chest which may last for a few moments or go away and come back again. The discomfort may feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or just plain pain.
There might also be pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach. You may also have shortness of breath, nausea, cold sweats and lightheadedness.
Heart attacks look and feel different in women than they do in men. Both men and women may feel chest pain when having a heart attack, but women are more likely to also experience shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and pain in the back, neck, or jaw. Common among women’s symptoms, however, is a feeling of fatigue that may last for days prior to the heart attack.
Many heart attacks start slowly with relatively mild pain. Because it is mild, people may hesitate to call 911 as soon as they should. Know the signs of a heart attack and don’t hesitate: acting fast can save a life.
What to do if you or someone else shows signs of a heart attack
- Call 911 or your local emergency number. Don’t ignore the symptoms of a heart attack. If you can’t get an ambulance or emergency vehicle to come to you, have a neighbor or a friend drive you to the nearest hospital. Drive yourself only if you have no other option. Because your condition can worsen, driving yourself puts you and others at risk.
- Chew and swallow an aspirin while waiting for emergency help. Aspirin helps keep your blood from clotting. When taken during a heart attack, it could reduce heart damage. Don’t take aspirin if you are allergic to it or have been told by your health care provider never to take aspirin.
- Take nitroglycerin, if prescribed. If you think you’re having a heart attack and your health care provider has previously prescribed nitroglycerin for you, take it as directed while waiting for emergency medical help.
- Begin CPR if the person is unconscious. If the person isn’t breathing or you don’t find a pulse, begin CPR to keep blood flowing after you call for emergency medical help. Push hard and fast on the center of the person’s chest in a fairly rapid rhythm — about 100 to 120 compressions a minute.
- If an automated external defibrillator (AED) is immediately available and the person is unconscious, follow the device instructions for using it.
Source: Mayo Clinic