Knowing your cardiovascular health before a heart attack can occur is very important. Most heart attack victims start to feel certain symptoms in the days leading up to a heart attack. Angina (chest pain) is usually the most common symptom. When your heart muscle is not getting enough oxygen, a condition called ischemia causes the chest pains. As a heart approaches, angina is likely to get worse or more frequent. Extreme fatigue and shortness of breath are also possible symptoms.
Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish angina symptoms from heart attack pain. Heart attack symptoms are usually much more severe and longer lasting than angina. These symptoms can last more than 20 minutes. Heart attack symptoms are relieved only slightly or temporarily by rest or medications used to relieve angina. Consult your doctor and pharmacist about which medications can work best for you.
Many people feel a sense of warning as a heart attack approaches. Tightness, pressure, pain and a squeezing feeling in the chest can all occur. You can also experience pain in the back, jaw, shoulder or arm (the left arm especially). Your heart may speed up and beat irregularly. Chest pain is usually the first symptom but up to 20% of people who have a heart attack don’t experience any chest pain.
Other symptoms that may or may not develop:
- shortness of breath
- nausea and vomiting
- temporary changes in vision
Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) is experienced by almost everyone who suffers a heart attack. Some of these irregular heartbeats are harmless, but other types can be serious and result in death. Ventricular fibrillation (VF) is one type and can lead to death in about 5 minutes. Your left ventricle, which is the main pumping chamber of the heart, quivers uselessly instead of delivering blood to the body. This happens because of the lack of oxygen in the heart.
Not all heart attacks are severe. Some heart attacks go unnoticed or are shrugged off as heartburn or angina. Distinguishing a heart attack from heart burn isn’t easy; antacids and belching can actually relieve heart attack pain, but it usually returns fairly quickly. Another temporary pain reliever is a nitroglycerin spray or pills. It’s important to remember that chest discomfort caused by heart attacks are not relieved by nitroglycerin. Use your discretion and common sense: if the discomfort feels worse or different than usual, consult your doctor and visit your local Rexall™ family pharmacy for more information.