Is it a Heart Attack?

Heart attack symptoms can vary between men and women and even from person to person. Other conditions can mimic a heart attack. Here are symptoms you should never ignore.

What happens with a heart attack

A heart attack happens when one of the arteries in the heart muscle itself becomes blocked by a clot or acute narrowing from plaque build up, cutting off blood supply. The heart not only pumps blood to the rest of the body, but to itself and when that supply is interrupted, the heart is starved for blood. If the blockage is severe enough, heart tissue dies and the heart can stop beating.

The pain of a heart attack is caused by blood deprivation to the heart itself and surrounding parts of the body.

Heart attack symptoms vary by gender

Pain or pressure originating with the heart is called angina. The BBC reports on a study published by the National Institutes of Health of 900,000 people indicating that about one third of women presented no chest pain during a heart attack, but experienced fainting, nausea and dizziness. In men, nearly one quarter had no chest pain. It should be noted that the majority of both sexes did experience symptoms in the chest.

Other heart attack symptoms.

Other symptoms can accompany a heart attack. A person not having chest pain, yet experiencing other symptoms may not realize the danger he or she is in. It is important to know and recognize these signs of a heart attack. They include:

  • An sudden ache in the throat radiating up into the jaw
  • An ache in the back between the shoulder blades
  • An ache in the shoulders, especially the left shoulder, and radiating down the left arm
  • Shortness of breath

A heart attack may also cause anxiety, nausea, sweating and a sense of doom. You may become lightheaded and experience fatigue.

Heart attack symptoms, or something else?

Other conditions can mimic a heart attack, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. The difficulty for the sufferer is that pain in the chest is difficult to pin down since nerve endings are not as concentrated to specific areas as they are in other body parts. Thus the pain of severe acid reflux can be similar to that of a heart attack.

Chest pain should not be ignored and you should get medical attention immediately. This is especially true if the pain is in combination with some of the other symptoms above, such as pain radiating into the back, throat, jaw and left arm. Don’t rationalize in such a situation. Get to an emergency room.

The choice is straightforward. If you get it checked out and there is no heart attack, you gain peace of mind. If it is a heart attack, 90% of patients who reach the emergency room survive.

As a precaution, chew an aspirin or another analgesic containing aspirin, such as Excedrin. Aspirin thins the blood and chewing one, to speed absorption in the stomach, can improve chances of survival until you reach a hospital.