According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer of people in our country. The group estimates that for the 2.3 million people who will die this year, an astonishing 41 percent will be from heart conditions.
Isn’t that one of the most sobering things you’ve ever read? I mean, I realize that heart disease claims many lives every year—but almost half of those who die?
In addition, the association’s website: www.americanheart.org states that 59 million Americans are currently living with some form of heart disease.
If you’ve read my last blog on heart disease, you already know that sadly, my Dad is in that second group of people. He had a heart attack about a year ago and underwent successful open heart surgery, a triple bypass, and a valve replacement. I’m so thankful for the fantastic team of doctors who took such good care of him.
What I’d like to do today, is go over the many signs and symptoms of a heart attack. Some of them you’ve probably heard before, and some of it might be new, but all of them are important to be aware of.
According to the AHA’s website, while some heart attacks come on very very quickly (what they call “the movie heart attack”—a term that I think is really descriptive), in most cases, the symptoms come on slowly and over time. Here are what they consider to be the most classic and common symptoms:
• Chest discomfort—feeling pain in the middle of the chest that may go away and then come back, or that lasts several minutes. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, pain or fullness. Many people have used the comparison that it feels like an elephant sitting on their chest.
• Discomfort in other parts of the body—like the jaw, arms, neck, back, or stomach.
• Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
• Other signs may include nausea, breaking out in a cold sweat, or lightheadedness.
One of my friends used to be a 911 operator, and she once described the fairly intense medical training she and her co-workers went through to learn how to answer those emergency calls. She said that when she was learning about heart attacks, one thing that struck her as very interesting was when the instructor said that denial is also often a symptom of a heart attack. In many cases, she was told, people will have horrible chest pain and trouble breathing, and they will also be completely convinced that they are just fine and nothing is wrong with their heart.
This makes total sense to me—I’m sure most people think there is just no way they can possibly be having a heart attack. So if your spouse or friend is complaining of these symptoms yet denies that anything is wrong, you’ll have to be ready to convince them otherwise.
The same goes for you. God forbid anyone who is reading this blog will ever have a heart attack, but if you feel any of these symptoms, please call 911 and get help. Unfortunately, denying that a heart attack is happening won’t make it go away. But calling 911 and getting to the hospital immediately can literally make the difference between life and death.
One thing that the AHA website also notes, which I found to be very interesting, is while men and women seem to both feel chest discomfort or pain while having a heart attack, women are more likely to also experience the other common symptoms, especially shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
This actually brings me quite nicely to my next issue—the question of if women are having different symptoms than men, or if we are just describing them differently. This is a topic that has come up during my research on heart disease and I wanted to throw it out to see what you thought about it.
I’ve read about cases where a woman has gone to her physician, described her symptoms, and has been sent home with a diagnosis of something like acid reflux, only to die of a heart attack the next day.
Obviously, these women were in the middle of a major heart problem, yet something happened that caused their doctor to send them home with a relatively minor diagnosis. But why is that?
What I’m thinking, is that perhaps some women just aren’t putting as much emphasis on their symptoms as they should. Maybe if we used terms like “crushing pain in my chest” as opposed to something more vague, well-meaning physicians wouldn’t be erring in their diagnoses.
I suppose it could also be true that we do feel the symptoms differently. Maybe men are more likely to have an intense squeezing feeling in their chests, and for women it’s more mild—I’m not sure. Like I said in a previous blog, men and women are different—so it would make sense that our experiences with the same health problems are different too.
At any rate, I want you to make me a promise. If you ever feel like something isn’t right with your heart, please call 911 and get some help. I know that many of us worry about it being nothing, and inconveniencing those nice EMT guys who come to your house and everything. But believe me—they would much rather take you to the hospital for what turns out to be a false alarm, then take you to the hospital after your heart has stopped beating.
Do you think that men and women are having different heart attack symptoms, like the AHA has suggested, or do you think it seems like they are different because we communicate them in different ways? Have you had a heart attack or known someone who has? What were some of the symptoms you experienced?
All user-generated information on this site is the opinion of its author only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for any medical conditions. Members and guests are responsible for their own posts and the potential consequences of those posts detailed in our Terms of Service.