Caring Currents

Heart Attack! Do You Know the Warning Signs?

Last updated: Jun 09, 2008

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Did you know that a person with heart disease has a five to seven times greater risk of having a heart attack compared with someone with a healthy heart? In light of those numbers, you'd think that someone with heart disease would be familiar with the signs of a heart attack…right?

Wrong. New research shows that nearly half of patients with a history of heart disease not only don't know the signs of heart attack , they don't see themselves as being at increased risk . The odds of surviving a heart attack improve if treatment begins within an hour of symptom onset, so it's crucial to seek treatment as soon as possible. But if patients don't know the signs, they might not realize they're having a heart attack. And if they don't know they're at greater risk, they might attribute their symptoms to something else.

So if your parent has heart disease, now's the time for you both to boost your heart attack IQ. If you don't think your parent can learn the symptoms by heart, print them out and post copies on the fridge, in the bathrooms, and next to the phone. Write "CALL 911!" at the top of each sheet in big, block letters.

You can find a complete list and and detailed descriptions of heart attack symptoms in this article . But if you don't feel like clicking, here's the list in a nutshell:

  • Chest pain or discomfort (pressure, squeezing, or a feeling of "fullness") that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in other areas of the upper body -- one or both arms, neck, back, jaw, or stomach .
  • Shortness of breath (with or without chest pain or discomfort).
  • "Flu-like" symptoms, such as nausea, lightheadedness, sweating, pallor, or clamminess .
  • A general feeling of extreme weakness or fatigu e.

The most common heart attack symptom for both men and women is chest pain or discomfort. But women are more likely to experience other symptoms , particularly jaw or back pain, shortness of breath, nausea, and fatigue. If your mom has heart disease, make sure you're both aware of these "less typical" symptoms.

Image by flickr user Jef Poskanzer used under the Creative Commons attribution license.