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What are the signs of a heart attack?

By The Health News Team | February 1, 2023
Woman experiencing chest pain

There are several reasons why a person might have a heart attack, which occurs when the blood flow that delivers vital oxygen to the heart muscle is blocked. Whether due to smoking; being overweight; having high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes; or other causes, more than 800,000 people in the U.S. have a heart attack each year.

While understanding the causes and risk factors for heart attacks is vital, knowing the warning signs can save a life.

Warning signs of a heart attack

According to the American Heart Association, some heart attacks are mild, while others are sudden and intense. Either way, it’s important to call 911 if you or a person you’re with experiences:

  • Chest discomfort, which can come and go and feels like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain

  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body, including the arms, back, neck, shoulders, jaw or stomach

  • Shortness of breath

  • Other signs, such as nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness or breaking out in a cold sweat

While chest pain is common in both men and women having a heart attack, women may experience symptoms — with or without chest pain — not often recognized as signs of a heart attack. What’s more, the signs may be more subtle and can be mistaken as symptoms of other less dangerous conditions, such as acid reflux, panic attack, flu and even normal aging.

Signs of a heart attack in women can include:

  • Unusual fatigue and weakness

  • Shortness of breath

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Anxiety

  • Jaw pain

  • Back pain

Reduce your risk of heart attack

Men and women are recommended to do everything in their power to reduce their personal risk of heart attack. Although some heart attack risk factors cannot be controlled — such as age, family history, and viral or bacterial infections — others are controllable.

To reduce your risk of heart attack, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends you:

  • Choose healthy foods. Aim for a diet high in fiber and low in saturated fats, trans fat, sodium, sugar and cholesterol.

  • Limit alcohol. Men should have no more than two drinks per day, and women no more than one drink per day.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Talk with your doctor about your healthy weight range.

  • Get regular physical activity. Health experts recommend 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking or bicycling, every week.

  • Don’t smoke. If you smoke, talk with your doctor about how to quit.

  • Manage stress. Practice healthy coping skills, such as meditation, exercise and relaxation techniques, and seek professional help if needed.

  • Take charge of your medical conditions. If you have diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, work with your doctor and other health care providers and take your medications as directed.

According to the American Heart Association, most people will survive a heart attack and can live full, healthy lives if they receive immediate treatment. However, having a heart attack puts you at a higher risk of having another.

Sharp HealthCare is the proud local sponsor of the American Heart Association Go Red for Women movement. Learn more about heart health, get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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