Thursday, October 13, 2011

You May Not Present as a Heart Attack to the Paramedics

We have likely all heard of the warning signs of a heart attack. And we didn’t pay attention. And that’s normal. Until you have one.

So, as you are reading this blog, you have an interest in heart attacks and that’s probably because you’ve recently had one, or someone you know has and you want to know more. Or, maybe you’re getting a bit older and want to be prepared.

The most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain, usually described as crushing, squeezing, pressing, heavy, or occasionally, stabbing or burning. Although this pain can occur at any time, a great number of patients experience it in the morning, within a few hours after awakening. Chest pain tends to be focused either in the center of the chest or just below the center of the rib cage, and it can spread to the arms, abdomen, neck, lower jaw or neck. Sometimes, when a heart attack causes burning chest pain, nausea and vomiting, a patient may mistake his or her heart symptoms for indigestion.

So here are the normal warning signs of a heart attack. The body likely will send one or more of these warning signals:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes.
    • If you do experience chest pain and the pain is severe, you should seek immediate medical care. Even if the chest pain is not severe, emergency care is needed if the chest pain is crushing or squeezing or is accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms
    • shortness of breath
    • discomfort or tingling in the arms, especially the left arm
    • pain in the back
    • tightness or pain in the lower jaw
    • profuse sweating
    • fainting
    • nausea
    • lightheadedness or loss of consciousness.
  • Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck or arms. The pain may be mild to intense. It may feel like pressure, tightness, burning, or heavy weight. It may be located in the chest, upper abdomen, neck, jaw, or inside the arms or shoulders.
  • Anxiety, nervousness and/or cold, sweaty skin.
  • Paleness or pallor.
  • Increased or irregular heart rate.
  • Feeling of impending doom.
Not all of these signs occur in every attack. Sometimes they go away and then return again. If some of these symptoms occur, get help fast. For others, in the event of cardiopulmonary arrest (no breathing or pulse), call 911 and begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately. Your life or the life of someone else may depend on your actions.
However, you still may be having a heart attack and have different symptoms. One of these is sharp pain in the scapula (shoulder blade). This is not common and so, it is hard to diagnose as a heart attack. When the paramedics do arrive, they may do an EKG so that they will know how to best treat you and which hospital to take you to. And this still may not give the right indications. Here’s a question for you to review: Can pain in the jaw or teeth be an indication of a heart attack? The answer is yes. Heart pain can radiate to the jaw and teeth. It is more common for heart-related discomfort to affect the lower jaw than the upper jaw. It is important to know that a heart attack can have symptoms other than chest pain, and these symptoms should be checked immediately. Pain in the upper teeth also can indicate other conditions, such as a sinus infection. It's important to get evaluated by your doctor to know the cause of your symptoms. Remember:
  1. In 25% of adults, the first sign of heart disease is sudden death from a heart attack.
  2. In about 15% of cases, the patient never reaches a hospital for treatment and dies quickly after symptoms begin.
  3. How long heart attack symptoms last varies from person to person.
  4. Heart attacks strike almost one million people in the United States each year, causing almost 200,000 deaths.

In a future post, we’ll review what will happen when you do reach the hospital.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this very comprehensive list of reminders. You might already be aware of a new heart study from Yale University. The Yale Heart Study is now recruiting over 2,300 heart attack survivors in this study on what's known as "treatment-seeking delay" behaviour in mid-heart attack. More info on this online survey (should take you only 30 minutes or so) at: