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Heart attacks happen when the flow of blood to the heart muscle suddenly becomes blocked, usually by a blood clot. As Mayo Clinic explains, fatty deposits build up over time, forming plaques in your heart’s arteries. “If a plaque ruptures, a blood clot can form and block your arteries, causing a heart attack,” says the health body.
A swift response to a heart attack is imperative to minimise the damage inflicted on the heart muscle.
Crucial to this effort is recognising the warning signs and acting on them as soon as they appear.
Most people are aware of the main symptoms of a heart attack, namely, chest pain, shortness of breath and fatigue.
According to Cedars-Sinai, a nonprofit academic healthcare organisation, bluish lips, hands or feet can also signal you’re having a heart attack.
Other symptoms include:
- Sudden sweating
- Heavy pounding of the heart
- Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), which occur in more than 90 percent of the people who have had a heart attack
- Loss of consciousness, which sometimes is the first symptom of a heart attack
- Feelings of restlessness, sweatiness, anxiety and a sense of impending doom
- Bluishness of the lips, hands or feet
- Older people may have symptoms that resemble a stroke and may become disoriented.
When is chest pain a sign of a heart attack?
Chest pain may be a main symptom but many people may be unaware of the particulars of this symptom, such as how it spreads.
“During a heart attack, a person may feel pain in the middle of the chest that can spread to the back, jaw or arms,” explains Cedars-Sinai.
According to the health body, the pain may also be felt in all of these places and not the chest.
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“Sometimes the pain is felt in the stomach area, where it may be taken for indigestion,” it says.
It is also worth noting that pain levels can also vary from person to person.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) explains: “For some people the pain or tightness in their chest is severe, while other people just feel uncomfortable, or pain similar to indigestion.”
According to the BHF, heart attack symptoms can persist over days, or they can come on suddenly and unexpectedly.
How should I respond?
“It’s essential to dial 999 if you have symptoms that could be a heart attack, or if your heart symptoms get worse,” advises the BHF.
Don’t worry if you’re not completely sure whether your symptoms are a heart attack, it’s really important that you seek medical attention regardless as quickly as possible, says the health body.
Next, you should:
- Sit down and rest
- Take a 300mg aspirin if you have one within arm’s reach
- Stay calm and wait for the paramedics.
“If you’re with someone who’s experiencing heart attack symptoms but they’re putting off or refusing to call an ambulance, it’s really important that you call one for them,” adds the BHF.
How to prevent a heart attack
Making lifestyle changes is the most effective way to prevent having a heart attack (or having another heart attack).
One of the most important preventative measures is to eat a healthy, balanced diet.
That’s because eating an unhealthy diet that is high in fat will make hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) worse and increase your risk of a heart attack, warns the NHS.
The health body also says to avoid smoking and to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.
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