Some heart attacks are sudden and intense — the “movie heart attack,” where no one doubts what’s happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort.
Often people affected aren’t sure what’s wrong and wait too long before getting help.
The symptoms of a heart attack can vary from person to person. Some people can have few symptoms and are surprised to learn they’ve had a heart attack.
Most Common Symptoms
The most common warning symptoms of a heart attack for both men and women are:
- Chest pain or discomfort.Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest. The discomfort usually lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. It also can feel like heartburn or indigestion. The feeling can be mild or severe.
- Upper body discomfort.You may feel pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or upper part of the stomach (above the belly button).
- Shortness of breath.This may be your only symptom, or it may occur before or along with chest pain or discomfort. It can occur when you are resting or doing a little bit of physical activity.
Chest pain or discomfort that doesn’t go away or changes from its usual pattern (for example, occurs more often or while you’re resting) can be a sign of a heart attack.
All chest pain should be checked by a doctor.
Other Common Signs and Symptoms
Pay attention to these other possible symptoms of a heart attack:
- Breaking out in a cold sweat
- Feeling unusually tired for no reason, sometimes for days (especially if you are a woman)
- Nausea (feeling sick to the stomach) and vomiting
- Light-headedness or sudden dizziness
- Any sudden, new symptoms or a change in the pattern of symptoms you already have (for example, if your symptoms become stronger or last longer than usual)
Not everyone having a heart attack has typical symptoms. If you’ve already had a heart attack, your symptoms may not be the same for another one. However, some people may have a pattern of symptoms that recur.
You can avoid heart problems in the future by adopting a healthy lifestyle today. Here are five heart disease prevention tips to get you started.
5 Lifestyle Changes To Prevent 80% of Heart Attacks
1. Don’t smoke or use tobacco
Smoking or using tobacco of any kind is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease. Chemicals in tobacco can damage your heart and blood vessels, leading to narrowing of the arteries due to plaque buildup (atherosclerosis). Atherosclerosis can ultimately lead to a heart attack.
Women who smoke and take birth control pills are at greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke than are those who don’t smoke or take birth control pills because both can increase the risk of blood clots.
When it comes to heart disease prevention, no amount of smoking is safe.
The good news, though, is that your risk of heart disease begins to lower soon after quitting.
2. Exercise for about 30 minutes on most days of the week
Getting some regular, daily exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease. And when you combine physical activity with other lifestyle measures, such as maintaining a healthy weight, the payoff is even greater.
However, even shorter amounts of exercise than these recommendations can offer heart benefits, so if you can’t meet those guidelines, don’t give up. You can even get the same health benefits if you break up your workout time into three 10-minute sessions most days of the week.
And remember that activities such as gardening, housekeeping, taking the stairs and walking the dog all count toward your total. You don’t have to exercise strenuously to achieve benefits, but you can see bigger benefits by increasing the intensity, duration, and frequency of your workouts.
3. Eat a heart-healthy diet
Eating a healthy diet can reduce your risk of heart disease. Two examples of heart-healthy food plans include the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan and the Mediterranean diet.
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help protect your heart. Aim to eat beans, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, lean meats, and fish as part of a healthy diet.
Avoid too much salt and sugars in your diet.
Limiting certain fats you eat also is important. Of the types of fat — saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and trans fat — try to limit or avoid saturated fat and trans fat. Aim to keep saturated fat to 5 or 6 percent of your daily calories. And try to keep trans fat out of your diet altogether.
Major sources of saturated fat include:
- Red meat
- Full-fat dairy products
- Coconut and palm oils
Sources of trans fat include:
- Deep-fried fast foods
- Bakery products
- Packaged snack foods
- Crackers, chips. and cookies
But you don’t have to cut all fats out of your diet. Healthy fats from plant-based sources — such as avocado, nuts, olives and olive oil — help your heart by lowering the bad type of cholesterol.
Eating two or more servings a week of certain fish, such as salmon and tuna, may decrease your risk of heart disease.
Following a heart-healthy diet also means keeping an eye on how much alcohol you drink. If you choose to drink alcohol, it’s better for your heart to do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. One drink is defined as 12 ounces (355 milliliters, or mL) of beer, 5 ounces of wine (148 mL), or 1.5 fluid ounces (44mL) of 80-proof distilled spirits.
At that moderate level, alcohol may have a protective effect on your heart. Too much alcohol can become a health hazard.
5. Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight — especially if you carry excess weight around your middle — increases your risk of heart disease. Excess weight can lead to conditions that increase your chances of heart disease — including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
Metabolic syndrome — a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides — also increases the risk of heart disease.
One way to see if your weight is healthy is to calculate your body mass index (BMI), which considers your height and weight in determining whether you have a healthy or unhealthy percentage of body fat. BMI numbers 25 and higher are generally associated with higher cholesterol, higher blood pressure, and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
The BMI is a good, but imperfect guide. Muscle weighs more than fat, for instance, and women and men who are very muscular and physically fit can have high BMIs without added health risks. Because of that, waist circumference also can be a useful tool to measure how much abdominal fat you have:
- Men are generally considered overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 40 inches (101.6 centimeters, or cm).
- Women are generally overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches (88.9 cm).
Even a small weight loss can be beneficial. Reducing your weight by just 3 to 5 percent can help decrease your triglycerides and blood sugar (glucose), and reduce your risk of diabetes. Losing even more weight, can help lower your blood pressure and blood cholesterol level.
Researchers at the Karolinska Institute conducted a study which showed that just five healthy lifestyle changes could reduce first-time heart attacks in men by 80%. Here’s what they said:
“It is not surprising that healthy lifestyle choices would lead to a reduction in heart attacks… What is surprising is how drastically the risk dropped due to these factors.”
Warning about Beta-Blockers and Scientific Misconduct
Beta blockers are drugs aimed at treating high blood pressure and congestive heart failure. They block the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and epinephrine (adrenaline) from binding to beta receptors and dilate blood vessels, lowering your heart rate and blood pressure. It was a common practice in the past for patients undergoing non-cardiac surgery to take beta-blockers, and this practice was even recommended by the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). However, it was recently discovered that this practice, which according to researchers was based on “questionable and probably fraudulent research,” may have been the cause of 800,000 deaths in the past five years in Europe only.
Get regular health screenings
High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels. But without testing for them, you probably won’t know whether you have these conditions. Regular screening can tell you what your numbers are and whether you need to take action.