People tend to think that heart attacks are sudden and intense—sort of like the scene in the movie, where the victim clutches his chest, groans, then keels over. However, heart attack symptoms can vary, and can be subtle that you’d easily mistake it for mild anxiety or typical end-of-the-day fatigue.
That’s why it’s important to know your body and listen to your instinct. Heart attack symptoms can actually happen over several days, or even weeks. Watch out for these signs, and even in the slightest case of doubt, call the doctor. Be especially vigilant if you’re at risk for heart attacks. And don’t forget, prevention is your best defense!
1. Your chest feels funny.
A lot of articles will call this ‘chest discomfort,’ but many cardiologists say that this misleads people into thinking that they should only pay attention if they feel pain. However, some may have such high tolerance that by the time they go, ‘I don’t like this!’ they’re already minutes away from an attack.
Instead, look out for a feeling of something ‘different’ than ordinary: a squeezing, pressure or fullness (like what you’d feel if someone were sitting on top of you) that lasts longer than a few minutes. The thing to watch out for is that the sensation goes away, but then comes back. And, it happens for no reason at all. You haven’t been exercising or you’re not in the middle of a panic attack.
2. Shortness of breath
This is one of the most common symptoms of a heart attack, but also the most frequently ignored. The heaviness in the chest may make you feel like you have to work a little harder to breathe. It’s not painful, but it’s definitely out of the ordinary. Please note that you can experience shortness of breath even if you don’t feel any chest discomfort.
3. Your upper body is uncomfortable.
You can actually feel the heart attack in areas away from your heart—one arm (or both), your back, your neck, or your jaw. The pain can also radiate to your teeth.
Here’s an important fact. When the back of your neck throbs, you should check your blood pressure. Even if you don’t have a heart attack (and we hope you don’t!) this is one indication that you could be developing hypertension, which increases your risk for both heart attack and stroke.
4. You feel nauseous and have a queasy stomach
Many people who have had heart attacks say that they had an upset stomach or a feeling of nausea a day before. This symptom tends to be more common among women. In fact, there are cases of people going to the ER, vomiting and writhing in stomach pain, thinking that they’ve just had a case of mild food poisoning. Once they’re checked, however, the ER personnel are surprised to find that they’re actually in the middle of cardiac arrest.
5. You have an odd sense of doom
The symptoms of heart attack can mimic an anxiety attack. Aside from the tightness in your chest mentioned earlier, you could have a sense of being ‘closed in’ or ‘impending doom’ or ‘inexplicable fear.’ Some have compared this to constricting feeling of claustrophobia.
There are many explanations for this symptom. It could be the collective effect of difficulty of breathing and the palpitations as the ailing heart tries to keep up with the demands of supplying oxygen and nutrients to the rest of the body. Or, it could be intuition that something is wrong, and your subconscious urging you to have yourself checked. Either way, there’s no harm in calling the doctor or passing by the office clinic for a quick check-up.
6. You break into a cold sweat.
Many people report that they had increased perspiration, and experienced a ‘clammy sensation.’ Again, this happened for no reason at all—there was no situation that could’ve caused anxiety or nervousness.
7. You feel light-headed.
This is one sign that your heart is not working as efficiently as before. It is unable to pump enough oxygen to the brain, leading to dizzy spells or light-headedness. Some people may even have fainting spells, but this is uncommon. You are more likely to just feel out of sorts, or a little off balance.
8. You’ve been feeling exceptionally tired.
One of the most subtle symptoms of a heart attack is fatigue. No matter how much you rest, or how light your workload has been for that day, you’re bone-tired and need to double your effort to finish the simplest task.
These are some of the symptoms that can indicate that you are about to have a heart attack. Of course, all cases are unique. You could experience all of them, or just a few. Even the intensity varies. Doctors say that gender differences may also affect not just what symptoms you get, but how you interpret them. For example, women are more likely to seek medical help, while men will often ignore anything except the greatest discomfort.