Minutes Matter

By Christopher Cannon, MD 

People often ignore, deny, or misinterpret signs that they may be having a heart attack. Some people ignore them because they convince themselves that it must be something else (“its just heartburn…”) Still others are worried or embarrassed that if they go to get their symptoms checked out that they will cause needless worry and trouble to their family or to their healthcare team. 

Unfortunately, people die from denial or embarrassment every day. Others wait too long to seek treatment, and increase the chances of permanent heart damage or death when symptoms of a heart attack start to develop. 

My best recommendation? If you develop any of the symptoms described below,  pay attention, and have them checked out right away. 

These are the 5 most common symptoms of a heart attack:

Chest discomfort. The majority of heart attacks have features of chest pain, usually in the center of the chest. It may start slow, and may be more of a squeezing, pressure, tightness, or fullness feeling.  It may come and go initially, but often increases in intensity.

Pain or pressure in other parts of the body, most commonly one or both shoulders or arms, the neck, jaw, back or stomach. This may or may not go along with chest pain at the same time. Often the discomfort may start in the chest and then move toward the arms, neck/jaw, or back.

Shortness of breath, particularly if also feeling some discomfort in the chest or arm.

Sweating, sometimes breaking out in a “cold sweat” for no apparent reason. 

Nausea and lightheadedness. 

Any of these symptoms should warrant immediate evaluation, but the more of these that are occurring around the same time increases the chances that it is truly a heart attack in the making.

Most women are aware that the symptoms of a heart attack may be different than those of men. While this is true, there are also some myths about this. Some women think that they will not have chest pain if they are having a heart attack.  I once spoke with a woman who had suffered a heart attack but waited to call 911. She'd heard that women who have heart attacks don’t have chest pain. This is false. The most common sign of heart attack in women is chest pain, as it is in men.

What is also true, however,  it that it is more common for women to have the other symptoms, such as arm pain, neck or jaw pain, sweating or shortness of breath. They may have these symptoms without having the chest pain, whereas men are more likely to have the chest pain as part of the picture.

The bottom line for treating a heart attack is this-- minutes matter. Minutes can make a difference between full recovery and lasting heart damage, and sometimes between life and death. If you're experiencing any of the above sensations, particularly if they are new or different to you, call 911. This is the fastest, most effective and safest way to have prompt care if you are having a heart attack. 

Learn more at heart.org. 

Dr. CannonSCL Health Heart and Vascular Institute - Brighton
has added Interventional Cardiologist, Dr. Christopher Cannon,
to their team. He treats patients who have heart attacks and coronary
artery disease. To learn more, visit bit.ly/brightoncannon

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