5 Major Heart Attack Red Flags You Need To Know

Heart attack (or myocardial infarction) is a medical emergency in which one of the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle with blood becomes extremely clotted. This causes ischemic death of the portion of the heart muscle which that blood vessel supplies, due to prolonged lack of oxygen. Symptoms and signs of heart attack depend on many factors, such as the portion of the heart wall that is affected, person’s current state of health, level of blood vessel obstruction, and joined diseases. Here are some of the most important red flags of heart attack.

  1. Chest Pain

Chest pain is the most common symptom in persons with acute heart attack. It can vary from the feeling of pressure in the chest to the very strong pain which some persons describe like the worst pain they have ever felt. The pain is more often dull than sharp, and it rarely changes with movements. However, nerve fibers which transduce pain impulses in persons who suffer from diabetes are damaged, so some of them may even survive heart attack without experiencing any pain.

  1. Nausea and Vomiting

Infarction of the lower (also called diaphragmal) wall of the heart can cause a strong feeling of nausea, abdominal pain and vomiting. This occurs because the Vagus nerve, which innervates a large portion of the stomach and intestines, is in the close proximity to this wall of the heart and it can be irritated in case of heart attack.

  1. Shortness of Breath

A sudden feeling of shortness of breath can also be one of the first signs of heart attack. It can occur for different reasons. Sometimes the pain creates that feeling, and sometimes the lungs become filled with fluid due to hemodynamic disturbances caused by myocardial infarction. Namely, the ability of the heart to pull the blood from the lungs can become so weakened that the blood pressure increases in the blood vessels of the lungs, thus causing swelling of the lungs.

  1. Dizziness, Fainting, and Coma

If the large portion of the heart muscle is affected, then the heart is unable to supply other vital organs with enough blood. The brain is especially vulnerable in this case. Short term loss of consciousness is common, but if the circulation is severely damaged, the person may enter the persistent coma. The feeling of nervousness and the cold sweat commonly appear in persons with heart attack. Very often, this is experienced as the feeling of “fear of death”.

  1. Spreading of the Pain

Tingling, numbness, and even pain can spread from the chest towards the neck and jaw, and also through the left arm, all the way to the fingers. These strange feelings in the left arm should always raise suspicion to the heart attack in persons with high cardiovascular risk.

As said before, heart attack is a medical emergency, and the treatment is required as soon as possible. If the right treatment is applied at the right time, chances for survival and saving a larger portion of the heart muscle are significantly higher.

The above stated symptoms are common in heart attack, but they are not very specific. For example, the chest pain is one of the most common symptoms in medical practice, and it can occur due to many different reasons, only one of which is heart attack. If the pain appears during physical exhaustion, lasts for less than 20 minutes and disappears after the short period of rest, it is more probable that angina pectoris is the cause of the pain. People with angina pectoris also have narrowed coronary blood vessels, but not to the extent to cause death of the heart muscle cells.


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Bruyninckx R, Aertgeerts B, Bruyninckx P, Buntinx F. Signs and symptoms in diagnosing acute myocardial infarction and acute coronary syndrome: a diagnostic meta-analysis. The British Journal of General Practice. 2008;58(547):e1-e8. doi:10.3399/bjgp08X277014.

Løvlien M, Johansson I, Hole T, Schei B. Early warning signs of an acute myocardial infarction and their influence on symptoms during the acute phase, with comparisons by gender. Gend Med. 2009 Sep;6(3):444-53. doi: 10.1016/j.genm.2009.09.009.

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