Do You Know Your Heart Attack Symptoms?

About half of all sudden cardiac arrest deaths happen outside a hospital because people don't take the early heart attack warning signs seriously, the Centers for Disease Control says. This is in part because victims are not experiencing the crushing chest pain that many of us associate with heart attacks. The signs of a heart attack can be much less dramatic, leading heart attack victims to try and wait out their symptoms.

A recent study revealed that on average, men wait six hours before calling 911 when having heart attack symptoms such as chest pain, women tend to wait even longer. For the best outcome, people should call 911 within 5 minutes of experiencing heart attack symptoms -- many people are missing that goal by hours, not minutes.

Charles Wirtz, MD, an internal medicine physician with Ministry Medical Group in Thorp explains that advancements in medicine can reduce or prevent the heart muscle damage that can be caused by a heart attack. "Today, we are fortunate to have new medications and treatments to help that were not available in years past," Wirtz said. "For example, clot-busting drugs can stop some heart attacks in progress. But, to be effective, these drugs must be given quickly after heart attack symptoms appear."

According to Stacy L. Gusman, Doctor of Nursing Practice with Ministry Medical Group in Owen, ignoring the symptoms can not only damage heart muscles, but lead to death. "It's important to take action, even if you're not sure what the symptoms indicate," Gusman said. "Half of heart attack deaths occur in the first hour after symptoms begin before the patient ever gets to the hospital."

It's important to note that women may experience heart attack symptoms that feel less severe than those experienced by their male counterparts. "Symptoms of a heart attack in women are often more subtle and, as a result, more likely to be dismissed, especially in the early stages when medical intervention can be most effective," Gusman said.

To ensure blood flow to the heart is restored as soon as possible, women should watch for subtle heart attack symptoms that may occur weeks before an attack. These symptoms include:

  • Discomfort anywhere in the chest
  • Pain in the arm, back, neck or jaw
  • Stomach pain or nausea
  • Shortness of breath or lightheadedness
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue

Recognize these heart attack symptoms and take action. The faster doctors can begin treatment, the more likely heart attack victims will make full recoveries.

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