8 Things to Know if You Think You’re Having a Heart Attack

Heart disease and heart attacks are among the most common conditions diagnosed in both men and women every year, which means that you may have a friend or family member who has had one at some point. You’re not likely to know when this happens, but it’s possible that you’ll find yourself wondering if you’re having one yourself. To be safe, here are 8 things to know if you think you’re having a heart attack.

1) We usually describe chest pain as a ‘heart attack’

When people experience heart pain, they usually say they are having a heart attack—but it is not that simple. In fact, only about 1 in 5 ‘heart attacks’ are actually caused by coronary artery disease, and chest pain does not automatically indicate an impending heart attack. It’s important to know what’s behind your chest pain so you can get appropriate treatment.

2) Closer inspection reveals more information

Check how many of these apply to you: Nauseous or vomiting? Chest pressure? Lightheadedness? Shortness of breath? Weakness in your arm or shoulder on one side? If at least four apply, call 911 and get yourself to an emergency room as soon as possible. If none of them do, but you’re still worried about your heart, seek out medical help for an evaluation.

3) Why do we get chest pain?

Some heart attacks cause chest pain. Most don’t. The most common symptom of a heart attack is severe chest pain or discomfort, which often spreads to other areas of your upper body and arms, as well as to your back, neck, jaw, or stomach. It usually lasts more than 30 minutes and can feel like pressure, squeezing, or tightness. It sometimes even feels like shortness of breath, though many people have trouble breathing because they’re in so much pain.

4) Seek immediate medical help

Don’t wait for your heart attack symptoms to pass—seek immediate medical help. Call 911 or, in many areas, call an ambulance first and then get in your car and follow them. Tell them you’re having chest pain, otherwise known as angina. If it turns out not to be a heart attack but something else, like indigestion or muscle pain from over-exertion, that can be dealt with when you get there.

5) If it’s not a heart attack, what else could it be?

If it’s not a heart attack, there are some other scary things that can be going on with your heart. Many of these diseases and conditions are far more serious than angina or arrhythmia, so it’s important to know what they are: Atrial fibrillation—An irregular heartbeat that may increase your risk of stroke and is often treated with blood thinners (like aspirin). It can also cause weakness or fatigue.

6) How can I avoid this happening again?

There are some things you can do on your own that will dramatically reduce your risk of having another heart attack, including exercising regularly, making healthier eating choices, quitting smoking (if you smoke), and getting enough sleep. Of course, there are certain medications that can help lower your risk as well—the most common being statins and aspirin. I would also recommend finding an open-minded doctor who is willing to discuss options with you.

7) What’s the treatment for chest pain?

First and foremost, don’t panic. Heart attacks are extremely common—in fact, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), there are about 735,000 people who have heart attacks in America each year. While it’s scary, heart attacks are relatively easy to treat; however, they can be fatal if you don’t seek treatment quickly enough. The key is early recognition and swift action. If you think you’re having a heart attack, dial 911 right away and follow these steps

8) Prevention tips – lifestyle changes, exercise, and healthy diet

If you or someone you love is over 40, they should have their cholesterol levels checked every five years. It’s also important to know your number and keep tabs on it once you do. So what is the number? A total blood cholesterol level of less than 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) — which includes HDL, LDL and VLDL — is one way to gauge heart health.

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