Trying to determine if you are having a heart attack or not could take precious time that may ultimately cost you your life. Every 43 seconds in the United States, someone suffers a heart attack. Studies have shown that the average person will wait about three hours before seeking medical attention.
So why would anyone wait to seek treatment if they think they are having a heart attack? Everyone responds differently to situations like this, and your first response could be to wait until you’re sure it’s a heart attack before making a trip to the emergency room, or fear or stress could prevent you from making a decision.
The sooner you can get to an ER or to our physician’s office, the better your chance of survival and less damage there will be to the heart muscle. Of those who die of a heart attack, half die within an hour of the first symptom or before they reach a hospital.
Don’t take a chance — know the facts and act fast. A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart suddenly becomes blocked and the heart cannot get oxygen. If not treated quickly, the heart muscle fails to pump blood and begins to die. When experiencing a heart attack, it’s important to act as quickly as possible. Know the warning signs so you can take action.
The Symptoms of a Heart Attack
Chest pain or discomfort: Most heart attacks will cause discomfort in the center or left side of the chest. This discomfort may last for a few minutes or could go away and come back. It could feel like a squeezing, fullness or pain. It could also feel like heartburn or indigestion.
Upper body discomfort: You might experience pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, shoulders, neck, jaw or upper part of the stomach (above the belly button).
Shortness of breath: This might be your only symptom. It may happen before or along with chest pain or chest discomfort. You might experience this when you are resting or during physical activity.
Other possible symptoms: Cold sweats, unusual tiredness (especially in women), nausea and vomiting, light-headedness or sudden dizziness.
Heart attacks can look different for every person. As many as one-third of heart attack patients, particularly those who are older, female or diabetic, may not have chest pain. Elderly people are less likely to have arm pain, nausea, vomiting and sweating and are more likely to experience confusion, fainting and difficulty breathing.
You can have several of the common warning signs or you may have only subtle symptoms – often they are vague, come on gradually, and stop and then start again. Some people may not feel well for days or even weeks earlier. If you have already had a heart attack, the symptoms may not be the same as your previous heart attack. If you are feeling fundamentally different, get checked out and communicate your symptoms or feelings as specifically as possible.
It is important to know the signs, symptoms and your family history of heart disease. Make yourself familiar with the most common signs, but also remember that less common signs are just as important to respond to with action.
Quick action can save your life. Call 9-1-1. Any time you think you may be having a heart attack take action, even if you are not sure it is a heart attack. Don’t be embarrassed to call for help. An ambulance is the best and safest way to get to the hospital. If you are having a heart attack, the EMS personnel can begin life-saving medicines and treatments right away. Oftentimes when you arrive at the hospital by ambulance you receive faster treatment.
Every minute you wait to go to the hospital, the less likely you are to survive a heart attack or to avoid damage to the heart muscle. Your best chance of a good outcome is to get to the hospital within an hour.
Don’t wait and take action. And don’t let fear of COVID-19 keep you from seeking emergency help — our clinics are taking all necessary precautions to keep you safe from infection. For more information about treating heart conditions, see our heart health insights and tips.