Frequently Asked Questions
Heart attacks are a leading killer of both men and women in the United States. The good news is that excellent treatments are available for heart attacks. These treatments can save lives and prevent disabilities.
Heart attack treatment works best when it's given right after symptoms occur. If you think you or someone else is having a heart attack, call 911 right away.
WHAT IS A HEART ATTACK?
A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked for a long enough time that part of the heart muscle is damaged or dies. The medical term for this is myocardial infarction.
Most heart attacks are caused by a blood clot that blocks one of the coronary arteries. The coronary arteries bring blood and oxygen to the heart. If the blood flow is blocked, the heart is starved of oxygen and heart muscle dies.
Many risk factors may lead to a heart attack.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF A HEART ATTACK?
A heart attack is a medical emergency. If you have symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 right away.
Chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack. You may feel the pain in only one part of your body, or it may move from your chest to your arms, shoulder, neck, teeth, jaw, belly area, or back.
The pain can be severe or mild.
It can feel like:
* A tight band around the chest
* Bad indigestion
* Something heavy sitting on your chest
* Squeezing or heavy pressure
The pain usually lasts longer than a few minutes. Symptoms may also go away and come back.
Other symptoms of a heart attack can include:
* Light-headedness, dizziness
* Nausea or vomiting
* Palpitations (feeling like your heart is beating too fast or irregularly)
* Shortness of breath
* Sweating, which may be very heavy
Some people (the elderly, people with diabetes, and women) may have little or no chest pain. Or, they may have unusual symptoms (shortness of breath, fatigue, and weakness). A "silent heart attack" is a heart attack with no symptoms.
Not everyone having a heart attack has typical symptoms. If you've already had a heart attack, your symptoms may not be the same for another one.
CAN HEART ATTACK SYMPTOMS BE DIFFERENT FOR WOMEN?
Even though heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American women, many women often chalk up the symptoms to less life-threatening conditions like acid reflux, the flu or normal aging.
Many women think the signs of a heart attack are unmistakable - the classic Hollywood movie "clutching-the-chest heart attack" - but in fact they can be more subtle and sometimes confusing.
Symptoms may include:
* Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
* Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
* Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
* Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
* As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
CAN I HAVE EARLY SYMPTOMS BEFORE A HEART ATTACK?
While a heart attack may seem like a sudden event, many patients experience early symptoms days or even weeks before the actual heart attack.
Early symptoms are often similar to symptoms of a heart attack-chest pain, shortness of breath, unusual fatigue or an irregular heart beat-but come and go and may worsen or happen more easily with each episode.
Chest pain or discomfort while you're at rest that lasts more than 5 to 10 minutes needs immediate medical attention. Symptoms may also be different for women, who more often experience dizziness, light-headedness and flu-like symptoms. If you have chest pain or other heart attack symptoms, call 911 and seek medical attention immediately.
It is important to recognize early symptoms of an impending heart attack and to act quickly. Waiting is a mistake. Coronary artery disease that leads to a heart attack is often treatable. Interventions during these beginnings of a heart attack can help prevent significant damage to the heart muscle or even death.
Be aware of the following signs and symptoms:
* Shortness of breath without exertion, difficulty breathing when doing normal activities
* Heartburn can be an early sign of a heart attack, especially if the condition becomes chronic
* Discomfort or pain, everywhere from crushing to squeezing to pressure occurring in the chest and even other areas of the body; the shoulders, neck, and jaw are areas reportedly affected prior to a heart attack
* A feeling of impending doom, anxiety and fear, especially when combined with any of the other symptoms listed above
MINUTES MATTER: QUICK ACTION CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE
Any time you think you might be having heart attack symptoms or a heart attack, don't ignore it or feel embarrassed to call for help. Call 911 for emergency medical care, even if you are not sure whether you're having a heart attack.
It is important to note that 85% of muscle damage takes place within the first hour.
* DO NOT try to drive yourself to the hospital.
* DO NOT WAIT. You are at greatest risk of sudden death in the early hours of a heart attack.
Every minute matters. Never delay calling 911.