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How to know if you're having a heart attack

How to know if you're having a heart attack

Your body can act weird sometimes. Especially as you begin to age. Aches and pains, even occasional bouts of fatigue come and go and you might not worry because in your mind, ‘it’s just part of growing older’. But there are some aches and pains that you shouldn’t ignore. Things like tightness in your chest or shortness of breath might be signs of something more. They could mean you're having a heart attack. How can you know if you're having a heart attack? Let’s find out.

Symptoms of heart attack

It’s easy to assume that pain in your chest is gas or even acid reflux. But, if your pain is new, happens over and over, or keeps you up at night, call 911. Common symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Pain, squeezing, tightness, pressure, or aching in your arms (especially your left arm) or chest. Sometimes this can spread to your back, jaw, or neck.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Suddenly sweaty or clammy 
  • Fatigue or becoming exhausted easily
  • Long-lasting cough
  • Abdominal pain, heartburn, indigestion, or nausea
  • Lightheaded
  • Snoring
  • Swollen ankles or feet

When you're experiencing a heart attack, the pain you're feeling won't go away with rest, and grow worse with physical activity or stress. Women having a heart attack sometimes have less intense symptoms than men. Some individuals have no symptoms at all while others simply feel “off” or  an impending feeling of doom.

Who is at risk for a heart attack?

You may be a risk for a heart attack if you:

  • Have an autoimmune disease
  • Are over age 45 for men, or age 55 for women
  • Have a family history of heart disease
  • Have high cholesterol
  • Use or are exposed to tobacco on a regular basis
  • Are diabetic
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Are under high amounts of stress
  • Use illicit drugs
  • Are obese
  • Have metabolic syndrome
  • Are inactive
  • Have a history of pregnancy complications (e.g. preeclampsia, gestational high blood pressure, gestational diabetes)
  • Experienced early menopause (menopause before age 40)

A heart attack is an individual experience

Every person experiences a heart attack differently. You might have warning symptoms for weeks, or you could have a very sudden heart attack. Even how the pain is experienced can vary. For example, you might experience anything from no pain, to mild or severe pain. Contrary to popular belief, many people have symptoms of nearly complete loss of blood flow for days or even weeks before a heart attack. The more symptoms you have, the more likely you are to have a heart attack. Remember, you may have different symptoms and a different timeline of events for your heart attack than someone else. 

Act immediately

If you feel you might be having a heart attack, it's crucial to seek help immediately. Don’t wait it out. It might mean the difference between life and death. Here’s what to do if you feel you may be having a heart attack.

  • Call 911. If you're unable to connect with emergency services for whatever reason, have someone drive you to the hospital. You should only drive yourself to the hospital as last resort. You could endanger yourself and others by getting behind the wheel while you are having a heart attack.
  • Take an aspirin. Aspirin can help protect your heart from damaging blood clots. However, it can interact with certain medications. Call 911 first, and ask if you should take an aspirin. They can help you know what to do. 

Having a heart attack is a scary experience. You can help make it a little less scary when you know what symptoms to watch for.

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