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Listen to Your Heart: Never Ignore Signs of a Heart Attack

February 26, 2019

One day, shortly after eating a big meal, you feel an unusual pain in your chest. You may wonder: Could it be a heart attack? You don’t want to believe that—or upset your family with your concerns. Besides, what if the pain is just indigestion?

But your family and friends are among the biggest reasons why you should never ignore possible heart attack symptoms. The sooner you get emergency help for a heart attack, the better your chances are of still being around for them.

Don’t hesitate. Raja Nazir, MD, FACC, director of the cardiac cath lab and Heart & Vascular health at Kettering Health Network, says wasting time googling your symptoms is the worst thing you can do.

“It’s good to learn about these things, but if you are having symptoms, you should call 911 right away,” Dr. Nazir says.

When you’re experiencing a heart attack, you begin to lose heart muscle as time goes on, so the sooner you get to an Emergency Department, the better chance you’ll leave with little to no heart damage. The mortality rate of heart attack sufferers has decreased from 30 to five percent, but you must get to the hospital to take advantage of those good odds.

Know the signs. Heart attacks aren’t always the swift and intense events portrayed on TV, so some people may delay calling 911 because they don’t realize that what they’re feeling is a heart attack.

“The most common phrase people use to describe a heart attack is the feeling that someone is sitting on their chest or that there is a ton of bricks on their chest,” Dr. Nazir says. “It’s a sudden onset of severe pressure and heaviness in the chest, which is associated with breathing difficulty and a sense that something bad is going to happen.”

The shortness of breath feeling is often distinctive, like a choking sensation beyond just not being able to catch your breath.

These typical, textbook-style symptoms are most common in males. In females and people with diabetes, symptoms can look different.

“Females tend to have a milder version of pain, and it may only be in their back,” Dr. Nazir says. Females may also experience a heaviness in both arms, difficulty breathing, and sudden onset of neck and jaw discomfort. Jaw pain, especially with shortness of breath, is a symptom often specific to heart problems.

Both males and females with diabetes may not feel chest pain at all, but rather, experience a sudden onset of sweating with a sense of doom. “Anyone who is diabetic and wakes up with profuse sweating and an uneasy feeling, they should consider it a heart symptom,” Dr. Nazir says.

If you suspect you might be having a heart attack, don’t second-guess yourself. Call 911 immediately. In the meantime, consider having a heart screening to assess your risk for cardiac events.

Your screening options.

Kettering Health Network offers different options for heart screenings for people who are tuned in to their health and want to be proactive about knowing their numbers. The self-pay Risk Detection programs include everything from a Healthy Hearts Basic Screening to the Advanced Heart Screen Program. Click here to learn more about the heart screening program offerings.