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Kendal at Oberlin Blog

Know these Symptoms of Heart Disease

Posted by Molly Kavanaugh on Feb 24, 2016 1:31:02 PM

chest-pain-woman.jpgProbably all of us know someone who thought they were having a heart attack and rushed to the Emergency Room, only to be diagnosed with indigestion, muscle spasms or stress.

But I bet we all know several people who are alive today because they got to the ER in time and survived a potentially fatal heart attack.

Consider this statistic from the National Institutes of Health:

Of the people who die from heart attacks, about half die within an hour of their first symptoms and before they reach the hospital.

Yes, minutes matter, which is why the NIH stresses: “If you think you might be having a heart attack (even if you’re not sure), call 9-1-1- immediately. Don’t wait! Quick treatment can save your life–when in doubt, check it out.”

Here are key symptoms of heart disease that you and your loved ones need to know.

Chest Discomfort

This is the most common sign of a heart attack.  

"Everyone has a different word for that feeling," says Dr. Charles Chambers, director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at Penn State Hershey Heart and Vascular Institute. "Some people say it's like an elephant is sitting on them. Other people say it's like a pinching or burning."

The pain can occur while you’re resting or moving and usually lasts longer than a few minutes. The pain or discomfort can spread to other areas of your body, especially arms, back, stomach, neck and jaw.

While chest pain is a common symptom, you can still have a heart attack without such pain. This is especially true among women, Chambers says.

Speaking of Women

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, taking more lives than all forms of cancer combined.

The American Heart Association reminds women to pay particular attention to these symptoms:

  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach;
  • Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort;
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness;
  • Extreme exhaustion or unexplained weakness.

“As with men, the most common heart attack symptom in women is chest pain or discomfort. But it’s important to note that women are more likely to experience the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain,” according to the heart association.

In this video, Dr. Leslie Cho, of Cleveland Clinic’s Women’s Cardiovascular Center, explains treatment for women.

Unexplained Exhaustion

Every day you go out for a morning jog or climb the stairs to your office, but now this routine activity leaves you gasping for air or worn out.  

Dr. Vincent Bufalino, an American Heart Association spokesman, advises people experiencing unexplained fatigue to make a doctor’s appointment.  "These types of significant changes are more important to us than every little ache and pain you might be feeling," Bufalino says.

Other symptoms of heart disease include irregular heartbeat, swollen legs, feet and ankles, a long-lasting cough that produces white or pink mucus, and snoring.

Keep in Mind

Here are a few things that might surprise you about heart attacks and disease.

If you’ve already had a heart attack, your symptoms may not be the same the next time.

People with diabetes may have no symptoms of heart disease or very mild ones.

That can also be true for people over 60, and those who are overweight or have high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

The more risk factors you have," he says, "the more you should be concerned about anything that might be heart-related," says American Heart Association Dr. Bufalino.

Heart health infographic



Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years.

Topics: Healthy Aging

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