How to Tell If It's a Heart Attack
If you have several of the symptoms listed below, call 911 immediately. Every minute you delay puts you at greater risk of heart damage. While you're waiting for the ambulance to arrive, chew and swallow, without water, a regular, full-strength aspirin tablet to help prevent blood clotting (yes, it tastes bitter, but the aspirin will get into your system faster this way).
Once you get to the hospital, don't underplay your symptoms: Tell the doctors you think you may be having a heart attack and need a thorough evaluation, including an electrocardiogram (EKG) and a blood test to check cardiac enzymes. It's crucial to have both tests, because an EKG alone can miss 60 percent of heart attacks.
Classic symptoms (more common in men, but can also affect women):
- Discomfort, fullness, tightness, squeezing, or pressure in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or comes and goes
- Chest pain that radiates to the shoulders, neck, arms, or back
- Chest discomfort, accompanied by dizziness, fainting, sweating, nausea, vomiting, or shortness of breath
Atypical symptoms (more common in women, but can also strike men):
- Abdominal or stomach pain
- Dizziness, fainting, sweating, nausea, vomiting, or shortness of breath without chest pain
- Sudden, unexplained weakness, fatigue, or anxiety, especially after exercise. Also, a recent study shows that sleeplessness may be an early symptom, up to a month before a heart attack.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, February 2004.