The recent and sudden deaths of several well-known celebrities from heart-related issues should focus everyone’s attention on the dangers of heart disease and knowing the symptoms of a serious problem.
Chest pain can be caused by indigestion, which is usually minor or a heart attack, which can be life-threatening. It’s important to take chest pain symptoms seriously and immediately call 9-1-1 or seek care in the nearest emergency department. It could save your life or the life of a loved one.
“Patients should never diagnose themselves,” said Becky Parker, MD, FACEP, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “Often it takes a team of medical experts and various tests to diagnose the specific causes of chest pain. If it’s a heart problem, that delay in time can prove fatal.”
- About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year, according to the CDC.
- That’s about 1 in every 4 deaths.
- It is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
- About 735,000 Americans have a heart attack every year. About two-thirds of those experience their first heart attack.
- The CDC reports that only 27 percent of people were aware of all major symptoms of a heart attack and knew to call 911 or seek emergency care.
- Almost half (47 percent) of sudden cardiac deaths occur outside a hospital. Many people with heart disease don’t act on early warning signs.
The most common symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
- Pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, jaw, arms, or back.
- Chest discomfort associated with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea, or shortness of breath.
Heart Attack signs can differ between men and women. According to the American Heart Association, the most common symptoms in women include:
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness. As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
Some less common warning signs of heart attack in both men and women that should be taken seriously, especially if they accompany any of the above symptoms include:
- Abnormal chest pain (angina), stomach, or abdominal pain.
- Nausea or dizziness.
- Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.
- Unexplained anxiety, weakness, or fatigue.
- Palpitations, cold sweat, or paleness.
“Not all these signs occur in every attack. Sometimes they go away and return, said Dr. Parker. “However in all cases, a person can help lower the chance of dying from a heart attack by recognizing symptoms and getting medical help immediately.”
ACEP is the national medical specialty society representing emergency medicine. ACEP is committed to advancing emergency care through continuing education, research and public education. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, ACEP has 53 chapters representing each state, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. A Government Services Chapter represents emergency physicians employed by military branches and other government agencies.