- First Aid
How to Recognize Heart Attack Symptoms
Call 911 or Call a Doctor If You Suspect a Heart Attack
How to Recognize Heart Attack Symptoms in Yourself and Others
Recently, the news reported that the days of the year when people are most likely to die from a heart attack are Christmas Day, the day after Christmas, and New Years Day. Although they were not absolutely certain why this was true, they speculated that it might be because people are less likely to ask to be taken to the hospital when they are away from home, visiting relatives, or when their family is visiting them. In addition, since they may have been eating unusually heavy meals, they sometimes think they are simply suffering from a severe case of indigestion. Because they don't want to make a big deal out of their discomfort, many of these heart attack victims die because they wait too long to seek help.
It is easy to overlook the symptoms of a heart attack. Last summer, my 69 year old husband had a heart attack and we were uncertain what was going on with him, even after we got him to the hospital. Because some of his symptoms were a-typical, even the emergency room doctors thought that he might have just pulled a muscle. That was because the pain he was feeling was in his right shoulder instead of the more typical left shoulder.
Fortunately, my husband and I suspected that something serious was wrong with him, we took him to the emergency room, and we insisted that they kept checking him. The hospital kept him overnight and, by the next morning, blood tests confirmed that he had experienced a heart attack. If you have symptoms that convince you that something serious is wrong, do not hesitate to see your doctor or go to an emergency room.
Whether you are in your forties or a decades older, everyone should make a real effort to learn how to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack. A year ago, the 48 year old wrestling coach at our local high school died of a heart attack in his classroom. If he had recognized the symptoms sooner, he might have spoken up when he first began to feel ill and that could have possibly saved his life.
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Silent Heart Attack Symptoms
In the movies, heart attacks are often very melodramatic and obvious events. However, in real life the symptoms are frequently more subtle.
First, there is the traditional symptom that we have all come to expect. You should immediately suspect a heart attack if the victim has pain in their chest. The problem with this symptom is that many people may mistake the chest pain for indigestion or “heart burn.” In addition, the type of pain can vary from person to person, and may be different in men and women. Heart attack pain can be described as heavy pressure, squeezing, or tightness. Women may not experience the pain as severely or in the same part of their body. Both men and women may feel the pain in their back, arm or jaw. Pay special attention if the pain is constant and does not get better if the patient rests or lies down. Also be concerned if the pain starts in one area and spreads to the shoulder, arm or jaw. According to the American Red Cross First Aid Handbook, any severe chest pain that goes on for more than 10 minutes should prompt you to go to the emergency room immediately, or call 9-1-1.
Just recently, a friend of ours had a heart attack while attending a musical performance with his wife. They had eaten at a new restaurant before attending the performance, and he kept feeling like he needed to belch during the performance. He was also sweating heavily, although they were simply sitting in an air conditioned auditorium. He originally thought his discomfort was the result of something in the food they ate. At the intermission, he took an aspirin, because he was also developing a headache. He did not experience chest pains until they were climbing the stairs to leave the theater at the end of the performance. Once the chest pains started, his wife called 911 and an ambulance met them outside the theater. The next morning he had triple bi-pass surgery. He had been having a heart attack during the performance, and didn't recognize the symptoms! If he had just gone home and gone to bed, as he originally wanted to do, he might have died during the night.
Accidentally, our friend did one thing that may have saved his life. He took an aspirin. Many doctors recommend that you chew a baby aspirin or take a regular aspirin while you are waiting for the paramedics to arrive. There have been a number of well-documented cases in which it is believed that an aspirin saved the life of a heart attack victim. Our friend was almost certainly another example.
In addition to knowing how to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack, everyone should also know how to recognize the symptoms of a stroke, an embolism, an aneurism and other common medical emergencies.
If you are afraid that you will be too nervous during an emergency to remember the symptoms or the right procedures for dealing with them, get a good First Aid book and keep it handy. I keep one on the shelf in my living room where it is visible and easy to find. I don't want to have it tucked away in a drawer where I can't find it during an emergency. I hope other people will keep one handy, too.
Own a Red Cross First Aid Guide - Keep It In a Handy Place and Read It!
Are you afraid that you won't recognize the symptoms of a heart attack, stroke or other serious illness? It is always a good idea to keep a first aid book or quick reference guide on hand, so you can consult it whenever you are uncertain. This one from the American Red Cross is an excellent choice.
Heart Attack Breathing Symptoms
If it is suspected that someone is having a heart attack, one of the first things the doctor or paramedic will want to do is listen to the patient's lungs. This is because heart attack victims also experience breathing problems. They may begin panting or breathing quickly. Their skin may become very pale or even look blue, especially around the lips. Their skin may also feel moist and, in fact, they could begin to perspire heavily. This happens because their bodies are under so much stress.
Anytime someone is experiencing pain and they begin sweating heavily, even though they have not been exerting themselves, you should suspect that they are having a heart attack. You do not need to wait for other symptoms to appear before you take them to the emergency room!
Abnormal Pulse and other Heart Attack Symptoms
Another silent heart attack symptom is an abnormal pulse. The patient may feel as if their pulse is racing or skipping beats. Their heartbeat may seem wild. Their face may become very red, or it could become pale.
If you are near someone who collapses unexpectedly, feels pain that remains constant, begins to sweat heavily, or complains that something is "off" with their pulse, it is possible that they are having a heart attack. Even if they insist that they are okay, you should insist that they get checked by a doctor. They may not be the best judge of their heart attack symptoms.