Heart disease is the leading cause of death for American men and women, killing about one person every minute. If you are over 40 years old, there’s a good chance that someone close to you has or will have heart disease in their lifetime. Knowing what to look for can help save lives.
There are some signs that you can watch for that may indicate a heart attack is coming. These signs can show up anywhere from about a week before an actual heart attack to several hours beforehand.
Knowing these signs may be important in getting proper treatment and care quickly, reducing the number of serious consequences such as permanent damage to your heart or even death.
1. Unexplained fatigue and/or unusual lack of energy
This is one of the most common early warning signs. You may feel exhausted and completely run down with no real reason for this feeling. Not only is it hard to get up and take on the day, but you might find it takes a lot out of you just to do everyday tasks like working and taking care of your family.
This fatigue may also be accompanied by anxiety and/or depression. You may feel irritable and short-tempered with other people close to you or even alone.
These symptoms are often caused by a lack of oxygen in the body due to narrowing of blood vessels because of clots from atherosclerosis. This makes it harder for the heart itself to get blood pumping around the body, which then has to make some of its own.
2. Difficulty concentrating on something specific
This is a more general symptom than the others, but it is important to note if you find yourself having trouble with it. You may feel that your brain has gone “blank” or that you can’t focus on one particular thing (no exams for example). This is usually caused by an accumulation of stress and pressure. People who have been under a lot of stress for a long time often find their brainpower has been reduced as a result.
You may also notice that your mental capacity has been reduced. It becomes harder to focus and concentrate, even on everyday tasks like reading or talking with family members.
These early warning signs of heart attack often come from a lack of oxygen in the brain because of a reduced blood flow. If you find it hard to remember things or have trouble concentrating, this may be a sign something is wrong.
3. Migraine headaches
It’s possible to experience severe migraine-like headaches as early warning signs of heart attack up to about 24 hours before an actual heart attack.
These migraines often come with nausea and dizziness and are considered such an accurate indicator of a coming heart attack because they can also bring on similar symptoms like chest pain and difficulty breathing. It can be hard to distinguish between the symptoms of a heart attack and those of a migraine sometimes, but there’s usually one thing that can help: if you experience nausea and dizziness along with any other symptoms like shortness of breath or pain in your chest, call an ambulance as soon as possible.
4. Chest tightness
This is one of the more obvious signs and can show up anywhere from a couple hours to a day before an actual heart attack happens. It feels like your chest is under pressure and it’s hard to breathe, making you feel like something is really wrong with your body. This feeling often comes without any other symptoms, but if you notice these other signs as well, call for emergency services immediately as it could be a sign that you’re having a heart attack.
Chest pain is a common sign of heart attacks and cardiac arrest, but it’s often very hard to distinguish from other issues like indigestion or acid reflux. This issue can be particularly dangerous if left untreated for too long because it could lead to cardiac arrest.
5. Sudden pain in the jaw or neck
Another fairly obvious symptom is sudden pain around the neck and/or jaws. You may feel this on gradually or all at once, but the pain is often sharp and constant. If it’s accompanied by shortness of breath or intense chest pressure, call for emergency services immediately.
6. Numbness in face, arms or legs
Suddenly feeling numb on one side of your body (usually the left) can be a sign you’re about to have a heart attack if it’s sudden and/or accompanied with intense feelings like tingling, burning or coldness. These symptoms usually come gradually rather than all at once, but if they do come on suddenly (especially if they feel like pins and needles), don’t waste time; call for help right away.
7. Stomach pain or nausea
Feeling nauseated, having stomach pains or vomiting are all signs that you’re experiencing some kind of internal issue which could cause heart problems if left untreated (i.e. a heart attack). If it’s accompanied by shortness of breath, call for help immediately; it could be sign of cardiac arrest.
8. Weak pulse rate
Having trouble breathing, chest pressure and/or pain can cause the pulse rate of the person suffering these things to drop significantly lower than normal, even dangerously so. If you notice this symptom, it could indicate cardiac arrhythmia, which is a serious heart condition that needs immediate medical attention or even cardiac arrest.
9. Dark purple spots on skin
In some cases of cardiac arrest, people see dark purple spots on their skin that look almost black. This symptom usually appears gradually, but if you notice this along with chest pressure and/or discomfort, call an ambulance immediately; these symptoms could indicate a lack of blood flow which needs immediate medical attention.
10. Pain radiating from the chest to the jaw, arm(s), back, or stomach
If all of a sudden you feel pain in your chest but it feels like it’s spreading to any other part of your body, don’t wait to see what happens. Call for immediate help as this could indicate something seriously wrong with the way your heart is beating or functioning.
11. Tightness in the face
Similar to numbness, tingling or pins and needles anywhere throughout the body can be an indication that something is wrong with the blood vessels which may result in cardiac arrest.
12. Sudden, cold sweating
Cold sweat that suddenly pops up when you’re in a warm environment (i.e. indoors) is usually an indication of something serious like cardiac arrest.
13. Dizziness or light-headedness
Feeling faint or dizzy is a classic first sign of heart attack, so if you start feeling this way, don’t waste time; call for emergency services immediately.
14. Lackluster complexion
A sudden or gradual change in the complexion of the person suffering these symptoms could be a sign that something is seriously wrong and they may need immediate medical attention.
15. For women: pain (discomfort) around mid-sternum (breastbone).
The area around the breastbone (sternum) is where women tend to feel pain during heart attack, so if you feel this sensation, call for immediate help. However, keep in mind that different people experience different symptoms.
Understandably, if you think that you may be having a heart attack, seek medical attention immediately. The earlier treatment starts after a heart attack takes place, the better your chances of survival and recovery will be. Medical professionals can begin treatment even if they don’t know the exact cause of your symptoms and discomfort.
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