What symptoms may indicate a heart attack?

Healthy lifestyle changes can help reduce your risk of a heart attack

January 25, 2018

You’ve heard it before. Heart attack symptoms can differ for men and women. So what should you watch for and how can you distinguish between symptoms of a heart attack and something else?

First things first. What exactly is a heart attack?

Elie Azrak, MD, a cardiologist with SSM Health DePaul Hospital – St. Louis explains that a heart attack is caused by a sudden interruption in the blood flow to part of the heart muscle. It’s usually due to a blood clot near a cholesterol blockage of the coronary artery. With interruption in blood flow, the heart muscle starts to die away.

“As blood flow to the heart muscle is interrupted and the muscle begins to become starved for oxygen, nerve signals are released from the starving cells,” Dr. Azrak said.

This starvation can cause a variety of symptoms, including, but not limited to, chest, neck, jaw or arm discomfort or tightness; sweating; shortness of breath; dizziness; or even fainting.

“Unfortunately, it is not known why men and women often experience different symptoms,” Dr. Azrak said. “Women may experience less typical symptoms, leading to lower recognition of a heart attack.”

This can make it dangerous to ignore even the mildest discomfort or atypical health problem.

“Women may be deceived by the lack of the typical symptoms, leading them to believe they are experiencing stomach, back, or indigestion symptoms,” he said. “Therefore, they tend to deny themselves or delay timely care for their symptoms.”

The best advice?

According to Dr. Azrak, “When you experience symptoms that are unusual for you , such that they cause discomfort or malaise, especially if these symptoms cannot be explained by an existing condition, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.”

To lower your risk of a heart attack, choose to make long-lasting healthy changes. Dr. Azrak encourages eating a balanced diet and managing meal portions to reduce levels of cholesterol and body weight, walking at least 30 minutes a day, quitting smoking, and a healthier attitude toward life-related stress.
During Heart Health Month, be mindful that high blood pressure and cholesterol can be early indicators of a problem. SSM Health encourages you to know your numbers for these indicators and how they may affect your heart health.

To find a health provider in your area, click here.

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