9 Heart-attack symptoms you can't ignore

Written by cristina goyanes
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Subtle (and not-so-subtle) cues that a heart attack may be on the horizon

9 Heart-attack symptoms you can't ignore
(Getty Thinkstock)

Recent breakthroughs has allowed the field of cardiology to evolve, along with doctors' understanding of crucial symptoms patients should never dismiss, especially if you have a family history of heart disease.

“The heart has so many different levels of areas where you can get into trouble. You can have ventricle problems (arrhythmias), plumbing problems (coronary artery disease), mechanical problems (weak heart muscle) and structural problems (ruptured aorta),” Dr. Kukin says. “If something feels different, don't try to self-diagnose. Seek medical attention,” he advises.

The big question: What kind of doctor should you see? Should you call your family doctor, or 999? Do you need a routine exam, or the E.R.? Read on and we’ll tell you what moves to make for each symptom.

1. Crushing chest pain associated with nausea, vomiting and sweating

This is the classic symptom of a heart attack. Some symptoms are very obvious, but variations of these could be subtle. Also, keep in mind, they don't all always spell heart attack.

YOUR MOVE: Call 999. Even if your symptoms don’t feel life-threatening, that’s not for you to diagnose. They could get worse fast.

2. Chest pressure that feels like an elephant is sitting on you

People define their experiences differently. For one person it's pain, while for the other it's pressure. Regardless what you call that funny feeling in your chest, don't risk it.

YOUR MOVE: If the pressure lasts more than 20 minutes, call 999. For shorter periods of discomfort, call your regular GP for instructions – depending on your symptoms, she may send you to the E.R., or help set you up for a battery of tests.

3. Back pain that resembles a tearing sensation usually in the upper back

It could be a pulled muscle. Or it could be something far more serious: a rupture of the aorta. Jonathan Larson, the playwright who wrote the hit Broadway musical Rent, died of a ruptured aortic aneurism.

YOUR MOVE: If the pain starts during or after exercise or following a trauma or injury, see your regular doctor, especially if it shifts to another part of your body (other than your chest). If the backache comes on unprompted and persists for more than 20 minutes, plus is accompanied by nausea, call 999.

4. Tingling in the arms

Another textbook definition of a heart attack symptom. The numbing sensation starts in your chest and radiates down your left arm. It can also appear in your neck, right arm, teeth and stomach.

YOUR MOVE: For tingling alone, see your regular doctor. But if it lasts for more than half an hour and triggers other symptoms (seemingly-unrelated to arm motion), such as dizziness and nausea, call 999.

5. Undue fatigue while doing your regular chores

This one is very common in women. If you're doing your usual housework or running errands and, all of a sudden, are finding yourself feeling especially tired, it could be a sign of a cardiac condition.

YOUR MOVE: Make an appointment with your regular doctor immediately. It could be aging, or stress, or even lack of sleep. But it may be something worse. Your doctor can help find the root cause and direct your treatment.

6. Shortness of breath during any activity, such as walking

Another pretty significant sign that something could be wrong. Especially when paired with chest pain or pressure that goes away when you stop doing the activity. Also, having trouble breathing while lying in bed is a possible sign of heart failure.

YOUR MOVE: Sitting upright in bed might make you feel better. If it doesn't and you're still having trouble catching your breath or are breathing rapidly for more than 30 minutes, call an ambulance.

7. Indigestion

Here’s one that always throws people off. It's an easy excuse to snub the situation. It's even more confusing when you belch and feel relief. But the truth is, indigestion may be a serious sign of coronary disease.

YOUR MOVE: Take two Tums, Mylanta or Nexium and then watch the clock. If the discomfort doesn't disappear within half an hour, call your doctor and ask whether or not you should take a trip to the E.R.

8. Swelling

Swelling, or edema in medical terms, is caused when the heart is not pumping adequately. If you're feeling weak and exerted while walking or have swollen ankles, plus are experiencing difficulty lying down at night, then you've got a whole slew of suspect symptoms.

YOUR MOVE: Make an appointment with your doctor immediately.

9. Irregular heart beat (abnormal palpitations) and arrhythmias (a racing heart beat)

These are surefire signs that you need to go in for an evaluation. Everyone has a little heart hiccup now and then or rapid palpitations from stress or too much caffeine, but the key difference in danger is if this comes with symptoms like dizziness, light-headedness, and fainting.

YOUR MOVE: Take your pulse. Place a finger on your wrist and count the beats for 15 seconds, then multiply by four. If it's greater than 140, call 999.

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