“Life is unpredictable. The only you can count on is the unexpected.” Fedora
Although unexpected events are embedded in our life, self-awareness and knowledge often help avoid disasters.
Many people assume that a heart attack manifests as a sudden and dramatic experience when a person feels an intense squeezing pain in the chest and falls over. The truth is that not everyone has these classic signs of a heart attack. Many people have subtle, but alarming symptoms long before a heart attack occurs.
Watch this short video before you learn more about the unusual warning signs of a heart attack.
A recently published study at Harvard Medical School has shown that almost 75% of people who have had a heart attack experienced prior symptoms that were either ignored or dismissed. Over 50% of the men who died from heart attacks did not report any symptoms before, and the attack itself was the first sign of a serious illness. Here are the symptoms you may find confusing:
1. HEART ATTACK OR ARRHYTHMIA?
FAST AND IRREGULAR HEARTBEAT
Every episode of an increased heart rate and irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) can be a sign of an upcoming heart attack. Fast and irregular heartbeat often occur weeks or months before a heart attack.
Any arrhythmia accompanied by a fast heart rate indicates a serious heart problem such as supra-ventricular or ventricular tachycardia (arrhythmia arising from the ventricles).
Although arrhythmias without fast heartbeat are less dangerous, these symptoms still need medical attention. Ventricular tachycardia, for example, is associated with sudden cardiac death particularly when triggered by intense exercise.
All these symptoms may be confused for example with a panic attack. It may seem that suddenly the heart is pounding for no apparent reason, or it may feel "normal" after excessive exercise causing a feeling of weakness, tiredness or dizziness. If you recognise these symptoms, call the ambulance.
2. HEART ATTACK OR STOMACH PROBLEMS?
STOMACHACHE, NAUSEA, INDIGESTION
Stomachache, nausea, indigestion or sometimes even vomiting without any particular reason, may be the first manifestation of heart disease. The mechanism is relatively straightforward: cholesterol deposits accumulated in a coronary artery causes a narrowing or a blockage that reduces a blood supply or cuts blood flow off completely which manifests as a cramping chest or abdominal pain.
Chest pain is most common, and most people are more aware of the risk of potentially impending heart attack when it occurs. Having an abdominal pain, however, may be confusing and taken as a gastric problem. It is important to remember that the masked abdominal pain gets worse with exertion and gets better with a rest. The symptoms come and go, they do not persist.
Watch your symptoms for awhile to exclude the stomach flu or food poisoning. If the symptoms persist, get a check up for gastrointestinal illness and ask your doctor to consider heart disease.
Studies have shown that women more often than men experience gastrointestinal symptoms before a heart attack. Women are also less likely to go to the emergency room than men. In result, 42% of women who experience a heart attack die within one year, compared to 24% of men. Moreover, under the age of fifty, women’s heart attacks are twice as likely to be fatal as men’s.
3. HEART ATTACK OR NEURALGIA?
PAIN IN YOUR JAW, NECK, ARMS OR SHOULDERS
Another indicator of potential heart problems is a pain located in the shoulders, arms, neck or jaw. The mechanism is similar to the abdominal symptoms. Pain manifests ischaemia due to a blocked coronary artery. In this case, the "pain signals" travel up and down the spinal cord to junctures with nerves arising from the cervical vertebrae.
The pain tends to radiate from the neck to the jaw and even further to the ear. Sometimes it would radiate down the shoulder to the arm and hand, or it may be located in between the shoulders. It may be felt as a sharp or dull ache a few days or even weeks before the attack. The pain comes and goes rather than persists which makes it difficult to pinpoint and easy to overlook.
The pain may be felt in the neck one day and in the ear and jaw another day. It is likely to experience numbness, tightness, or tingling. If the pain doesn’t go away after a few days, ask your doctor for a check up and describe the nature of your radiating pain in detail.
4. HEART ATTACK OR LUNG PROBLEMS?
BREATHLESSNESS, DIZZINESS, DIFFICULTY TAKING A DEEP BREATH
When you struggle to take a deep breath, feeling like not getting enough oxygen (as if you were at a high altitude or feeling light-headed and dizzy), you may assume that this is linked to lung problems, e.g., you are at the early stage of developing asthma. It could well be the case, but all these symptoms above may also be a result of ischaemia caused by a blocked coronary artery.
Shortness of breath, called dyspnea is often the first sign of a heart disease. Studies show that 40% of women suffering from a heart disease report shortness of breath for up to six months before actually having a heart attack.
5. HEART ATTACK OR HORMONAL IMBALANCE?
Intense sweatiness when you haven’t been physically active more than usual has only recently been recognised as a sign of an upcoming heart attack. In menopausal women, it may feel similar to the hot flashes or night sweats typical for menopause.
A recent study has shown that excessive sweating in various parts of the body, such as the scalp, chest, back, palms, or soles is often the first sign before a heart attack begins. An intense sweating also occurs with a heart condition called endocarditis (an infection of the lining of the heart and heart valves, potentially triggering a heart attack or a stroke).
Sweatiness that is not accompanied by a fever, lasts longer than a week or comes and goes over a long period of time is a sign that there is some other underlying cause, possibly a heart disease. If symptoms seem unusual and don't go away, call your doctor.
6. HEART ATTACK OR FLU?
A Feeling of overwhelming fatigue that is usually associated with the flu, but lasts for weeks or even months can indicate heart problems long before a heart attack occurs.
Researchers say that more than 70% of women reported extreme fatigue a few weeks or months before having a heart attack. Fatigue associated with a heart disease usually comes in waves, suddenly, without any particular reason such as an extreme physical effort, lack of sleep or illness.
You may feel exhausted sooner than normal even after a mild physical exercise. Long lasting fatigue and a heavy feeling in the legs may be the first signals of an upcoming heart attack. A check-up highly recommended!
7. HEART ATTACK OR STRESS?
Studies have shown a strong association between self-reported symptoms of a serious anxiety and a risk of a fatal coronary heart disease. A decrease in oxygen level caused by a heart disease may trigger changes that lead to anxiety, agitation and sleep problems.
Often these symptoms can’t be explained by normal circumstances. Looking back, people who have had a heart attack realise that they began to experience anxiety and insomnia weeks or even months before the attack. It may be the body’s way of trying to let you know that something is just not right. Any new, sudden onset of insomnia, racing thoughts or feelings of dread are the signals to watch out for.
These can manifest as trouble falling asleep or disturbed sleep with a few unexplained episodes of night waking. Although these symptoms may well be related to some recent events or a current life situation, any sudden, unexplained anxiety or insomnia need to be discussed with your doctor.
If you or someone you know have at least one of the seven symptoms described above, don't ignore them. By learning how a heart attack may manifest, you can save a life, perhaps even your own.