Health Q&A

February 05, 2002

Health Q&A

By Christine L. Moats

February is American Heart Month.

Q: Do you know the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack?

A: The most common signs of a heart attack include:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back
  • Pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, back, jaw or arms
  • Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath
  • Less common warning signs of a heart attack (but important still):
  • Unusual chest, stomach, or abdominal pain
  • Nausea or dizziness (without chest pain)
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing (without chest pain)
  • Unexplained anxiety, weakness or fatigue
  • Palpitations, cold sweat or paleness

According to the American Heart Association, not all these signs occur in every heart attack or stroke. Sometimes they go away and return. Getting help fast can save your life and reduce disability.

Today there are new medications and treatments available, such as clot-busting drugs that can stop some heart attacks and strokes in progress. But to be effective, these drugs must be given relatively quickly after your symptoms first appear. It is crucial that you get help right away.


According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the less common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

If you or someone else is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, DON'T WAIT - call 9-1-1 or your emergency medical services so the person can get to a hospital right away.

Q: What causes a heart attack?

A: A heart attack occurs when blood flow to part of the heart is drastically reduced or completely stopped. This happens when one or more of the coronary arteries that supplies blood to the heart is blocked.

Blockages occur when plaque, which accumulates on the walls of the arteries, tears or ruptures, breaking away from the artery wall and allowing a blood clot to form and block the flow of blood through the artery.

Sources: ,

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