Heart Attack Warning Signs

Chest discomfort: Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

General discomfort: Pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach can be signs of a heart attack.

Shortness of breath: Difficulty with breathing that occurs with or without chest discomfort can be indicative of a heart attack.

Other Signs: Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness can be symptoms of a heart attack.

Medical attention should be sought immediately if any of these symptoms are experienced.

In matters of the heart, lifestyle, all too often, exacts a deadly toll. In North America alone, heart ailments are responsible for more than one in every four deaths. Coronary artery disease (CAD), also called coronary arteriosclerosis, is the number one killer.

Every year, more than half a million people lose their lives to CAD. This disease can be hereditary but, more often, comes about through a lifetime of bad habits. Smoking, diets high in fats and cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes can all lead to CAD. That means CAD can often be prevented.

Plaque is the villain in CAD. When this fatty deposit of cholesterol and calcium forms in the coronary arteries – the conveyors of oxygen-rich blood to the heart – the inner walls stiffen or harden, a clot forms and blood flow is blocked or slowed. Without the necessary oxygen and blood to function properly, the heart begins to starve.

Serious health problems ensue:

Angina, a debilitating chest pain that can also extend up to the jaw or down the left arm, is a common symptom. Exercise, stress, eating, even cold weather are all triggers for an angina episode. Rest and medication can relieve angina but will not cure the condition.

Arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat can develop because the weakened heart is not pumping appropriately. Arrhythmias can be severe – causing dizziness or loss of consciousness, or so minor that they are not noticed. Arrhythmias can be treated with medication and surgery. Left undiagnosed and untreated, arrhythmias can be fatal.

Heart attack or myocardial infarction (MI) occurs when plaque either totally blocks the artery or when a plaque deposit breaks off and clogs the artery. Either way, blood flow to the heart is disrupted, leading to permanent injury or death within minutes. Some heart attacks can be sudden and excruciating. Others are so mild that people, unsure of what is happening, wait too long before getting help.

Healthy Lifestyle: Diet and Nutrition,
Exercise and Fitness

A healthy diet and lifestyle are the best weapons for fighting CAD and other heart diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests the following when making food choices:

  • Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added saturated and trans fats.
  • Select fat-free, one percent and low-fat dairy products.
  • Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans (unsaturated) fat.
  • Cut back on foods high in dietary cholesterol.
  • Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
  • Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt. One teaspoonful of salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium. Use less in daily food preparation.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. Women should have no more than one drink per day. Men should have no more than two.

See CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity for more tips on nutrition.

“Act in Time to Heart Attack Signs,” a new website launched by the American Heart Association (AHA) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), is designed to increase heart attack awareness and the importance of calling 911 immediately at the onset of heart attack symptoms. Find the links here.*

Also, do not forget to exercise. Physical activity in daily life is an important step to preventing all heart disease. A few simple steps at home, at work and at play will easily increase the amount of physical activity in life. See physical activity for tips and more information.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]