Despite all the advances in medicine, heart disease continues to be the No. 1 killer in the United States, causing about one of every six deaths. It's estimated that for half of the people experiencing heart attack symptoms, early treatment can decrease the chances of permanent disability or death.
Knowing the early warning signs of a heart attack is important because time is critical. While a heart attack is a frightening event, knowing the early symptoms and what steps to take can save a life — maybe your own.
Many people think heart attacks are sudden and intense, like in the movies when a person clutches his chest and falls over. The truth is, many heart attacks start slowly, as a mild pain or discomfort. If you feel this symptom, you might not be sure what is wrong. Your symptoms might come and go. Many people confuse this pain with indigestion. Even people who have had heart attacks before might not recognize the symptoms because the next heart attack can result in different symptoms.
While many people with early symptoms might have mild discomfort, others will have severe pain in the center of the chest or throat that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like an uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain. Even if your symptoms are vague and mild, it is important to remember they can be serious.
Other early symptoms can include nausea; shortness of breath, back, jaw, neck or stomach pain; pain that goes down one or both arms; fatigue, and anxiety.
You also might break out in a cold sweat or fee nauseated or light-headed. Women are somewhat more likely than men to experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
Learn these signs, but remember that even if you are not sure it's a heart attack, have it checked out. Fast action saves lives. Do not wait more than five minutes to call 911.
Calling 911 is the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment. Emergency medical services staff can begin treatment when they arrive — up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car.