This article was originally featured in HealthHub: The Brigham and Women’s Hospital Health Blog.
Every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack which occurs when blood flow to the heart becomes blocked. To avoid becoming a cardiovascular disease patient, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of heart attack or stroke and understand how to decrease your risk.
Common symptoms of a heart attack may include:
- Chest discomfort: Pay attention to discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. This might feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body: Check for pain in one or both arms, and/or the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- Shortness of breath: This symptom may occur with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs: A person having a heart attack may also break out in a cold sweat, experience nausea, or become lightheaded.
It’s important to note that heart attack symptoms vary from person to person and between men and women. In women, the symptoms may be subtler, and might be mistaken for acid reflux, the flu, or normal aging. In addition to shortness of breath, women should pay close attention to symptoms such as:
- Pressure or pain in the lower chest, upper abdomen, or jaw
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting
- Upper back pressure or extreme fatigue
Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. A stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks the blood supply to the brain or when a blood vessel in or around the brain bursts. For patients who are experiencing stroke symptoms, it’s important to act F.A.S.T.:
Face: Is there facial numbness or facial drooping, particularly at the mouth?
Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Is there weakness or numbness? Does one arm drift downward?
Speech: Check for slurred speech. Can the person repeat a simple sentence back to you?
Time: If you experience or observe any of the following signs, call 911 immediately. Time is of the essence. The average patient loses nearly 2 million neurons each minute a stroke goes untreated.
The faster a heart attack or stroke is detected, the greater the chance a person has of surviving. In the event you fear that you or someone else is suffering a stroke or heart attack, always call 911.