Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in America—with approximately 460,000 related deaths due to a sudden and unforeseen heart attack. Of those who die, almost half suffer an attack so suddenly that they don’t have time to call an ambulance or get to a hospital in time.
Luckily, there are several warning signs that can indicate an impending heart attack. Here are ten early warning signs that can help you save a life…
Leading up to a heart attack, many patients notice profuse, cold sweating without any exertion or apparent reason. Your clothes and skin may become soaked in cold sweat, and your face may turn pale or white as a sheet. When your arteries are clogged, it can take more effort for your heart to pump blood through them. As a result, your body will try to maintain a safe temperature, causing you to sweat from the extra effort by your heart.
Excessive sweating can also be a sign of heart problems, not just a heart attack. You could experience this both during the day and at night. If you’re sweating a lot and you aren’t exercising or doing something that requires exertion while it happens, it could be because of your heart. Even if you aren’t having a heart attack, this symptom should be taken seriously. Go to your doctor so he or she can run tests that could eliminate or identify the cause of sweating. Any heart problems are serious, so any symptom that could be from a heart attack or problems should be considered seriously as well.
2. Restricting Feeling
We all know it’s common for someone having a heart attack to have pain and numbness shooting down their left arm. But what a lot of people don’t know is that the pain and discomfort can travel to other areas of your body. Some heart attack survivors have told of feelings of suffocation prior to a heart attack, where there is restriction around the upper back and torso as pressure builds as if a rope is being squeezed around the body and pulled tight. You could experience this sensation in your jaw and throat as well.
Restricting feelings could also be a sign of angina pectoris – an extremely painful condition that causes symptoms similar to that of a heart attack. Angina can be a prelude to heart attacks, so if it doesn’t go away within 15 minutes or you have episodes regularly, you should see your doctor. In some cases, it may be best to go straight to the hospital or to call an ambulance.
Oftentimes, during the weeks before a heart attack, individuals will feel a gradual feeling of fatigue set in, which starts as a slow drain on energy and becomes complete exhaustion a few days prior to the heart attack (i.e., bending down to tie your shoes may even be too tiring). It’s easy to write off fatigue as a result from lack of sleep, disrupted sleep, a busy schedule, and stress at work or at home, which is why most people wouldn’t consider that it could be a warning sign of a heart problem and future heart attack.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), tiredness and fatigue from doing regular, everyday activities like shopping or walking can be a symptom of heart failure – with the heart’s inability to pump enough blood to where it needs to, less blood is sent to areas like your muscles, ultimately causing muscle weakness and fatigue.
4. Shortness of Breath
Many folks, particularly women, describe a feeling of breathlessness in the days or moments before a heart attack. It might be so severe that you are unable to even carry on a normal conversation without feeling short of breath. While the AHA explains that shortness of breath most commonly happens when you’re doing some form of activity, it can also occur when you’re resting or sleeping. It could even wake you up from sleep if the shortness of breath is severe.
Put simply, the cause of this symptom is related to the process of returning blood to the lungs from the heart. When this process isn’t functioning properly, fluid can leak into the lungs and cause shortness of breath. It can be very scary to experience sudden shortness of breath, and if there’s no reason you are having trouble breathing – you didn’t just run 5 miles – you should get to the hospital as soon as possible.
5. Flu-Like Symptoms
Many people who suffer a heart attack say that they thought they had the flu, due to suffering flu-like symptoms leading up to their attack—including indigestion, nausea, bloating, coughing and diarrhea, which they excuse as “just the flu”. These are other dangerous symptoms that recognizing as a potential heart-related issue could help improve your chance of recovery and survival because you sought treatment before it was too late.
There are a number of reasons you could experience flu-like symptoms when you’re having a heart attack. Some of them include that your digestive system is not getting enough of what it needs to function properly (blood), and fluid building up in the lungs. Knowing these signs, specifically the not-so-common ones, is the best way to protect yourself and those around you. Don’t just throw your concern away and excuse your symptoms, no matter what they are – doing so could save your life.
Oftentimes, patients also complain of lightheadedness prior to a heart attack. Individuals often feel dizzy, like you’re about to pass out—some even do faint! This symptom could be dangerous for more than your heart because fainting could cause you to hit your head when you fall, or break other bones depending on the way you fell.
When you’re very dizzy – enough so that you feel like you might not be able to walk properly – sit down and call someone for help. Even if the dizziness ends up passing, it shouldn’t be ignored and you should consider if you’re displaying other signs or experiencing other symptoms of a heart attack. And remember, you don’t need to be feeling all of the most common and well-known symptoms, like pain down the left arm, to be having a heart attack or heart problems. Go to your doctor or even the hospital if the dizziness is severe or you fainted, or if you’re experiencing additional symptoms.
A sudden onset of stress so severe that it causes an anxiety attack is common to heart attack sufferers. Some even explain it as a feeling of impending doom setting in without any apparent reason, which is actually the body trying to get your attention that something is wrong..
One of the difficulties with anxiety being a symptom of a heart attack is that it can mimic a heart attack – anyone who has experienced an anxiety attack knows that the pain and severe stress are very real. As your heart beats faster from the anxiety, you can experience heart palpitations. Heart attacks and anxiety attacks are often distinguished by the pain (severe and common for heart attacks) and the fast beating of the heart from anxiety. You can experience some pain but the focus from anxiety is on the heartbeat). That said, distinguishing between the two can be next to impossible for the person suffering the anxiety or heart attack because it can consume you, making you unable to focus or concentrate on what’s happening to your body.
Almost 50-percent of heart attack patients (mainly women) complain of an inability to fall asleep in the days prior to suffering a heart attack or coronary episode. Other symptoms of insomnia include waking often and in general having poor quality of sleep. Insomnia can strike for weeks in advance to an attack.
In addition to insomnia being a precursor to a heart attack, research suggests that insomniacs have a much higher risk of having a heart attack than those who typically have no trouble sleeping. According to a study published in Psych Central, the increased risk of heart failure triples when people experience at least three insomnia symptoms simultaneously. These serious symptoms include trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, not feeling refreshed when you get up in the morning. It is unclear at this point how insomnia is linked to heart failure, but researchers are confident there is a strong link.
9. Chest pain
Chest pain leading up to a heart attack can range from mild to severe (feeling like a weight is on the chest). However, most often it’s experienced in the breastbone, one or both shoulders, and upper back, but not always in the actual area of the heart. The Mayo Clinic explains that this pain can vary, and usually feels like one of the following: tight ache, pressure, fullness, or squeezing in the chest. The pain may radiate to other areas of your body.
Chest pains are the most recognizable symptom, and likely the symptom most people think of when they think about heart attacks. Though this is a common symptom, not all people who have heart attacks experience it. Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between chest pain being a sign of a heart attack and heartburn because they can feel very similar. But it’s better to be safe and get checked out than assume that you just have heart burn. If you or someone around you complains of severe chest pain or other form of discomfort in their chest, call 9-1-1.
10. Pain in Other Areas
Discomfort or a mild tingling sensation in areas such as the stomach, back, neck, jaw, and most typically in the one or both arms (in the upper or shoulder area) is very common prior to a heart attack. You could even experience pain in your teeth! While most people recognize chest pain as a symptom of a heart attack, they generally don’t know that pain in other areas can be a sign as well.
Surviving and recovering from heart attacks depends on a variety of factors, including your medical history, age, gender, and genetics, and many other things. And in a lot of cases, how quickly you get treatment or head into surgery to unblock your arteries can greatly impact the outcome of your heart attack. Knowing the signs and symptoms, especially the early warning signs that can begin days before an attack, is your best protection – and this knowledge could even save someone’s life.