Myocardial infarction is the medical name for a heart attack. When the blood flow to a section of your heart muscle is blocked, the result is a heart attack. When this occurs, the blocked section is deprived of oxygen and begins to die if the normal flow of blood is not quickly restored. When certain blood vessels in the heart that supply it with blood become blocked, the reduced blood flow and oxygen causes that particular part of the heart to actually die. Heart muscles do not regenerate because they are permanent cells.
A heart attack can result in cardiac arrest, the interruption of blood to the heart, in only a matter of seconds. Fortunately, there are some warning signs of an impending heart attack that you must take seriously in order to prevent damage to your heart or even death. Educating yourself about the “red flags” that may precede any heart attack symptoms can help you avoid a possible heart attack and can potentially save your life.
Risk Factors Contributing to a Heart Attack
There are a number of risk factors that research has shown can be attributed to the increased incidence of heart attacks, which are the leading cause of death for both men and women. Reducing some of these risks in your life can reduce your chances of having a heart attack.
Some factors such as family history and previous heart attacks have a significant impact on developing heart problems that can lead to a heart attack. It is important to reveal anything that might have an impact on your chances of developing a heart problem that could lead to a heart attack.
Some other significant risk factors include the following:
- Having high blood pressure.
- Being overweight
- Having diabetes.
- Being physically inactive.
- Excessively high cholesterol levels.
In both men and women, undue fatigue is a common symptom of an impending heart attack. Even though excessive fatigue can signal other health problems, it is one of the first signs of heart problems. Many people ignore it as a sign indicating heart disease, but it should never be taken lightly. You might attribute it to just being tired from overworking or from lack of sleep, but you should not ignore it completely if resting does not relieve it immediately. If fatigue is accompanied by any chest pain, you should recognize it as a warning sign and seek medical help right away.
Before an impending heart attack, you may also suffer from extreme insomnia. Problems with the heart can prevent you from getting enough sleep.
2. Shortness of Breath
Dyspnea is difficult or labored breathing. It occurs with many conditions but is a common sign of impending heart attacks. If you have difficulty breathing, it may be a sign of a serious problem with the lungs or heart. You may also have significant chest discomfort along with a severe shortness of breath.
If routine activities such as walking upstairs or attending to household duties cause shortness of breath, you need to pay careful attention to this dangerous symptom. It may be an indicator of an impending heart attack and should not be ignored.
Any discomfort in the center of the chest and shortness of breath that does not improve in a few minutes is a sign of heart distress. A feeling of pressure in the chest, with or without pain, is a common sign of impending heart attack. If you begin breathing faster than normal or have the feeling that you cannot catch your breath, do not ignore it. You should seek help immediately without delay. This is a life-threatening situation.
3. Chest Pressure and Pain
Because a heart attack presents itself in different ways to different individuals, you should pay close attention to any uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, or pain in the middle of the chest area. Pain that comes on strong, lasts a few minutes, and then diminishes should be acknowledged.
4. Other Upper Body Pain and Discomfort
Pain the one or both arms may begin as a tingling and progress to severe pain. You may also be aware of a pain in the neck on either or both sides and possibly jaw pain. More women than men report experiencing pain in the jaw and teeth.
Stomach discomfort, indigestion, nausea, and even diarrhea often are present before a heart attack, especially in women. Because stomach problems can be attributed to many other causes, they often go unnoticed until it is too late. You may experience a severe ache in the upper back and not feel any pain in the chest prior to a heart attack. Mayo Clinic cardiologists report that while men feel pain in their left arm prior to a heart attack, women may feel it in one or both arms at the same time.
5. Excessive Sweating
Unusually excessive sweating is a common sign of a heart attack. Women suffer from this symptom more often than men do. It sometimes goes unnoticed as a possible sign of an impending heart attack, especially if it occurs in menopausal women who may suffer from hot flashes. If you experience clammy hands and break out in a cold sweat for no reason, it may be a sign of a possible heart attack.
6. Burning in the Chest
If you suffer from severe indigestion that produces a distinct burning in the chest, it may be a sign of an impending heart attack. Because indigestion is a common complaint following a big meal, this sign may be overlooked. If the indigestion is accompanied with an extreme burning sensation in the chest and is not relieved with antacid medications, it may be the sign of a more serious problem.
Heart palpitations are not uncommon and in some cases are completely normal, but could signal a potential problem. A palpitation is the feeling that your heart is skipping a beat. It may feel like your heart is beating fast or maybe even too slow. If the feeling occurs often and continues in a resting position, it could be a symptom of a heart problem. Be aware of any changes in pulse or heart rate, especially if it is accompanied by any other symptoms.
8. Jaw and Neck Pain
You may feel pain in the jaw, neck, and shoulders before a heart attack. These symptoms are more common in women than men but may be experienced by both. It may be difficult to determine if the symptom of jaw pain is related to dental problems. Pain caused by an inadequate supply of oxygen to the heart can be felt in the jaw because of common nerves. Women who experience severe pain in the jaw may never feel any chest pain.
Neck and shoulder pain may worsen with the motion of the arms. If exercise increases the pain, you should not ignore these symptoms.
You should be aware of any feelings of dizziness or being lightheaded, especially when changing from a sitting to a standing position. Another common symptom that accompanies the dizziness is vomiting and could be a warning of a heart attack. When blood flow to the heart is blocked or diminished, you will feel lightheaded, faint, or may briefly lose consciousness. This common symptom may indicate an impending heart attack.
10. Swelling of the Extremities
Water retention in the feet, ankles, legs, or abdomen may be a warning sign of impending heart attack in both men and women. Abdominal swelling accompanied by a loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting may precede a heart attack. Any edema, abnormal retention of fluid anywhere in the body, is a cause for you to be concerned about your heart.