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Heart attack: Know the signs

The Doctors - | 2/18/2011, 6 a.m.

You're a little nauseated and lightheaded. Your back hurts. What do you think? You're coming down with something, what you ate for breakfast didn't settle, you carried too much laundry up the stairs? All plausible explanations. Here's another: You're having a heart attack.

In an American Heart Association survey, only about half of women were aware of certain warning signs; of others, even less. A heart attack occurs when a blockage stops blood flow (and oxygen) to your heart. Some cases are what you picture: intense chest pain, difficulty breathing. But most heart attacks start much less dramatically, with mild pain or discomfort. Some signs:

Chest pain. It's uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. If you have chest pain, especially with another of these symptoms, don't wait more than five minutes to call 911.

Upper-body discomfort. It can be in one or both arms, your back, neck, jaw or stomach.

Shortness of breath. This can be with or without chest pain.

Other signs. Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

FIRST-AID UPDATE: Heart attack victims may go into cardiac arrest and require cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Given immediately, CPR can double or triple a person's chance of survival.

The American Heart Association now recommends chest compressions only for most adults and skipping the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Studies show it's just as effective. Learn how to do it at handsonlycpr.org.

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