How can you tell if you’re having a heart attack? Knowing the symptoms and getting help immediately are crucial. The big problem: there’s a wide range of symptoms that could feel like something else, including the flu or indigestion.
Typical symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic’s Website mayoclinic.com, often include: chest pain, discomfort or pressure, general upper body pain, stomach pain or heartburn, shortness of breath, anxiety and breaking out in a cold sweat.
As if this wasn’t vague enough, women more often have the symptoms other than chest pain, including general fatigue. According to caring.com, a study funded by the National Institute of Health and published in "Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association" said that 95 percent of women who’d had heart attacks reported specific and unusual symptoms a month or more before the incident. These include sleep disturbances, anxiety, nausea and pain in the jaw, ear and neck like a pulled muscle. Both sites stressed that you know your own body, if you don’t feel right, get medical help. All of these symptoms can indicate a number of things, including a heart attack.
Dr. Byron Miller, director of the Emergency Department at Providence St. Mary Medical Center. summed it up, "I’d like to make it simple and straightforward, but it’s not at all simple and straightforward." He said it’s rarely the classic sharp chest pain and pressure. "It can radiate into the jaw, arms, back. You could break out into a sweat, have shortness of breath." Another complicating factor, he said, is that "women tend to manifest symptoms differently than men. Women in their 70s and 80s often just experience weakness and lightheadedness. If you just aren’t feeling right, you should really be suspicious. And diabetics often can have an M-I with no chest discomfort at all."
The strides made in the last 15 years, according to Miller have to do with recognizing the more vague presentation of heart attacks in women. According to Miller most of the information they had was based on the Framingham study done years ago on physicians. "But in the 40s and 50s, physicians were men. We just assumed that women had the same symptoms. Some have classic symptoms, some are more vague."
"People ask me: Should I come in for this? Absolutely. It’s hard enough for us to figure out if you’re having a heart attack, how can you sit at home and figure it out? There’s no harm in going in and getting it checked out. Don’t sit at home having a heart attack."
If you go for help, several tests can be done, to determine if that’s the problem. Miller lists the classic risks for heart disease: family history, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking.
"Some of these are lifestyle choices: watching your diet, not having a high fat diet. Exercise regularly." He said it doesn’t have to be a marathon, a little goes a long way.
"We’re so busy, we have so little time in life. Just try walking 15 minutes, twice a day."
He suggests parking farther away from work and then you have to walk to get back and forth.
Instead of worrying about the family medical history, Miller said to focus on things you have control over, such as lifestyle and diet modifications.
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