Symptoms of a Heart Attack

Heart attacks are among the scariest of health crises. Everyone fears them — but not everyone knows the signs or what to do in the event they happen. Simply knowing how to respond to a heart attack (technically called myocardial infarction, or MI) can reduce the risk of death.

Defining Heart Attack
“A heart attack is the sudden onset of blockage of an artery in the heart, usually resulting from the formation of a blood clot.

A clot is a mass of blood cells that stick together. The most common experience we have with clotting is when a cut stops bleeding and forms a scab. Blood clots that cause heart attacks begin inside your coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply your heart muscle with fresh, oxygenated blood. Your blood clots in an attempt to heal a break in the plaque, or fatty deposits, that may be narrowing your arteries. As a clot grows, it “results in diminished or absent blood flow to the heart muscle and, consequently, death of the muscle.

This is why even a non-fatal heart attack can damage your heart, leading it to function poorly and causing congestive heart failure or arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats).

Signs of Heart Attack

When you think of a heart attack you may picture the event the way it's dramatically portrayed on TV — someone clutching his chest and collapsing to the floor. But the signs aren't always so clear.

 Heart attack symptoms include:

-Chest pain or discomfort — which Bhatt describes as “classically left-sided and pressure-like, that is, the feeling that an elephant is sitting on your chest.” Another term people use to describe this feeling is “squeezing.”

-Pain moving down the left arm
-Pain moving up to the left side of the jaw
-Pain or discomfort in your back or stomach
-Nausea or throwing up
-Shortness of breath

Bhatt emphasizes that not all patients have these classic symptoms.

“Elderly patients, diabetics, and women may sometimes have atypical symptoms such as a sharp pain in the chest,” he says. Others complain of a feeling of indigestion. Since time is of the essence, it is better to seek medical help if you suspect a heart attack than to wait and see if your symptoms get better.