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What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack?

In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds. About 805,000 heart attacks occur in the U.S. every year, with 605,000 being first time heart attacks and 200,000 occurring in people that have had a prior heart attack.

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, but for most the onset is slow and the pain or discomfort is relatively mild. A lot of deaths from heart attacks can be prevented by recognizing symptoms early and getting help. Some of the signs of a heart attack include:

  • Pain, pressure, or discomfort in the center of the chest

  • Pain in the arms, neck, jaw, shoulder, back, or abdomen. The pain often radiates between these areas.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Skin is cool to the touch but sweaty.

  • Nausea or lightheadedness

It's important to understand that women’s heart attack symptoms can present differently than men. They often have the same symptoms as men like pain pressure and discomfort in the center of the chest, but women are more likely to present with other symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and pain in the back or jaw. Symptoms are sometimes confused for heart burn or the flu.

What to do if you or someone you know is having a heart attack:

  • Immediately call 911. Don’t ignore the symptoms. In most situations it is better to wait for emergency personnel than to try to transport the person. If you yourself are having heart attack symptoms, don’t try to drive yourself.

  • Loosen tight clothing, remove restricting jewelry, and allow the person to sit in the position that is most comfortable for them to breathe.

  • Have the person chew and swallow 1 adult aspirin or 2-4 low dose baby aspirin. Make sure the person is able to swallow and isn’t allergic to aspirin. Don’t administer aspirin if the person is bleeding or there is evidence of stroke.

  • Take nitroglycerin if it has been prescribed to you.

  • Be prepared to perform CPR if the person becomes unresponsive and stops breathing. Get an AED if there is one available so it is immediately available to use in case of cardiac arrest.

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