Learn early symptoms of a heart attack

Special to the Herald-LeaderJanuary 28, 2013 

Megan Switzer, CB Health

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Did you know heart attacks have beginnings? These beginnings occur in more than 50 percent of patients. Most importantly, if recognized in time, these beginnings can be treated before the heart is damaged.

Some heart attacks are sudden and so intense that no one doubts what's happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Symptoms may come and go until finally becoming constant and severe.

Recognizing the early symptoms of an impending heart attack is important because 85 percent of heart damage occurs within the first two hours of a heart attack. Acting upon these early symptoms immediately can prevent serious damage to the heart:

■ Chest discomfort. Discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

■ Discomfort in other upper body areas. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

■ Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.

■ Other symptoms may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness, fatigue and anxiety.

The most common heart attack symptom with both men and women is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

Even if you're not sure it's a heart attack, have it checked out (tell a doctor about your symptoms). If you or someone you are with has any of these symptoms, especially with one or more of the other signs, don't wait more than five minutes to call 911. Emergency medical staff can begin treatment when they arrive — up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car. Fast action can save lives — maybe your own.

You can learn more about heart health at Heart and a Movie, a free event scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 7 at Cinemark at Richmond Centre in Richmond. Sponsored by Central Baptist Hospital and Baptist Health Richmond, the event will feature a physicians' panel featuring heart specialists, a free movie with refreshments and door prizes. Register at Baptisthealthrichmond.com/heart or call (859) 260-2220.

Megan Switzer is a Cardiac Network Development Advanced Practice Registered Nurse at Central Baptist Hospital.

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