We know what a heart attack looks like on television and in the movies, when a character suddenly clutches his chest or collapses to the floor, writhing in pain. In real life, sometimes the signs can be more subtle.
A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is severely reduced or cut off entirely by a blood clot or other obstruction.
“The most common signs of a heart attack are sudden, unexplained shortness of breath or a tightening or pressure in the chest, jaw or across the shoulders or back,” says Jerry Miklin, MD, a cardiologist at SCL Heart & Vascular Institute - Wheat Ridge. “Only about 10 percent of patients ever have that often-quoted feeling that ‘an elephant is sitting on my chest.’ Most patients who come to the hospital with active heart attacks have no idea what’s going on—they just know that something is wrong.”
First, Know The Symptoms
Typically in the center of the chest. Includes pressure, tightness, squeezing, and or aching.
Upper Body Discomfort
Frequently the pain spreads to the shoulder, arm, back, neck, jaw, teeth, or abdomen.
Shortness of Breath
You might even notice this without the chest pain.
Cold sweats, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, lightheadedness. Especially in women.
Keep in mind:
At first, these symptoms can come and go. Take them as warning signs and act immediately.
"Time is muscle. The early recognition of symptoms is vital to limit the damage done to the heart muscle," says Donald Rabor, MD, a cardiologist for the SCL Health Heart & Vascular Institute - Brighton. "The less amount of injury the heart sustains, the better the outcome and prognosis."
"Do not ignore any of these symptoms, especially if they intensify and last longer than five minutes; immediate medical treatment is necessary," adds Dr. Rabor.
Then, Here’s What To Do
If you’re with someone:
Get someone to call 911
An ambulance will be faster than driving (and they’ll have a defibrillator onboard).
Have them wait with you
In case you stop breathing, they’ll have to perform CPR. 100-120 compressions per minute.
Ask for aspirin, ASAP
Chew and swallow to keep your blood from clotting.
Nitroglycerin (if it’s available)
Take only as prescribed
If a defibrillator is near...
It can be used if you become unconscious.
And Here’s What to Know
If you’re alone:
Don’t drive unless it’s your only option
It’s always better to call 911 and wait for an ambulance.
Unlock your front door
So medics can quickly get in.
Make yourself visible
Lay down where the EMTs can find you.
We're Here To Help!
The SCL Health Heart & Vascular Institute combines the strength of leading cardiovascular specialists with some of the area’s best heart hospitals, including Platte Valley Medical Center in Brighton and regional centers of excellence such as Saint Joseph Hospital and National Jewish Health in Denver. Our team of experienced and highly-qualified cardiologists and vascular specialists provides you with the highest level of care, from heart attack prevention and surgical care to specialized rehabilitation, all to keep your heart healthy and strong.
For more information, visit SCLhealth.org/heart or call 720-571-1994 to make an appointment with a cardiologist.