How do I know if I’m having a heart attack? Or a stroke? In discussing this matter with a number of doctors, several cardiologists among them, common factors repeatedly came up. So what follows is a summary of the answers given by medical professionals who have for extended periods, been intimately involved with our heart health.
To answer the question: How do I know if I’m having a heart attack? All doctors answered this question with a common response. “You almost can’t miss it!” Most went on to add that you cannot miss the signs of a heart attack at all if you pay attention. Unfortunately, many people ignore the signs; an all too often fatal mistake. It is depressing to see how many people die of a heart attack simply because they waited too long to get help.
Some people have a good old “movie type” heart attack. Often those are the lucky ones because everyone around them is galvanized into action; 911 is called, an ambulance carries the victim with sirens blaring to the nearest trauma center where it is met by a team of highly skilled medics who know exactly what they’re doing and how to intervene successfully.
The problem here is that these spectacular heart attacks are in the decided minority. Most heart attacks start slowly, with mild discomfort. More often than not, the victim isn’t sure what’s wrong and waits too long to get help. So here are the signs that can mean a heart attack is on its way.
CHEST DISCOMFORT – DON’T IGNORE IT!
Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes. Often it will go away and come back again. This discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, and even pain. And, while women don’t have an exclusive on this, they are more likely than men to experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
Other symptoms to look for are discomfort in other areas of the upper body; pain and discomfort in one or both arms (forget the thing about just the left arm), the back, or the jaw.
So if you or someone you’re with has chest discomfort, especially with one or more of the other signs, don’t wait more than five minutes before calling for help. And don’t drive yourself or the victim to the hospital. Call 911 and have an ambulance do it. It’s the fastest way of getting help. Patients arriving in a screaming ambulance always receive immediate attention without going through all the normal paperwork gymnastics. And if, after all the tests have been done, it turns out to be a false alarm, not to be embarrassed. Doctors all agree; staff will be happy to send you on your way in good health, respectful of your prudence in getting checked out.
Essentially, stroke is a disruption of blood flow to the brain. Stroke is caused by a blockage or bleeding of a blood vessel. Areas of the brain that are affected by such a blockage can be severely damaged within minutes. The effects of a stroke range from mild to severe; temporary or permanent. It all depends on which brain cells are involved, how much damage is done, and how quickly the blood supply is restored. Symptoms of a stroke are sudden, rarely they are not felt at all, and most usually they include one or more of the following:
- Sudden numbness, paralysis, or weakness in the face or limb on one side of the body.
- Problems with walking or balance that weren’t there before.
- A sudden change of vision
- Slurred speech, drooling.
- Confusion, difficulty in understanding simple questions.
- A sudden severe headache of unfamiliar character.
Anyone experiencing these symptoms needs immediate medical attention. Not all of these symptoms occur with every stroke, and any one of these signs should not be ignored even if it goes away. It is important to check the time when the first warning sign occurred. The doctor will want to know this. If you’re attending a person with symptoms of a stroke, expect to be met with denial. That’s common. Call emergency services for an ambulance over the protests of anyone with symptoms of a stroke. Prompt action can minimize the damage.