When most people hear the words “heart attack,” they think of classic symptoms such as crushing chest pain and shortness of breath. It’s important to know, however, that heart attack symptoms can seem unrelated or have more subtle signs. In fact, women are more likely to experience subtle heart attack signs such as back pain.
As part of our commitment to your heart health, cardiovascular physician Dr. Ayim Djamson and our top-quality cardiovascular specialists want men and women to know the warning signs of an impending heart attack.
Because these signs aren’t always obvious, we’ve put together some information to help everyone stay informed.
Heart attack 101
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death among men and women in the United States. Each year a heart attack strikes more than 800,000 Americans, and for about two-thirds of them, it’s their first heart attack.
A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked. A buildup of cholesterol and fatty substances in the arteries that supply blood to the heart is the most common cause of a heart attack.
In the past, older adults were the primary population concerned about heart attacks. Today, we see heart attacks occurring at a younger age. In fact, about 20% of heart attacks occur in people 40 or younger.
Because heart disease is no longer an “old man’s” disease, everyone should be concerned about their heart health.
Classic heart attack symptoms
Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest. In classic heart attacks, the symptoms may come on suddenly and feel intense. It may feel like a crushing or squeezing sensation in the center of your chest.
In addition to chest pain, classic signs of a heart attack are:
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweat
- Pain in one or both arms
Symptoms may last for several minutes or may go away and return.
Link between back pain and heart attack
The traditional concept of heart attacks is more commonly seen in men. Women often have different symptoms than men. They’re less likely to have sudden, crushing chest pain and may instead present with more subtle symptoms that seem unrelated. In fact, some women have reported mistaking their heart attack symptoms for the flu.
In an effort to raise awareness, we want women to have the information necessary to recognize non-classic heart attack symptoms so you can seek immediate medical attention.
Time is of the essence when it comes to heart attacks. Minutes and even seconds can make a difference in the outcome. Any delay in care increases the likelihood of dying of a heart attack.
Upper back pain can be a warning sign of a heart attack, especially in women. You may mistakenly associate this pain with exertion. We refer to this as “referred pain.” This is when the brain has trouble identifying the origin of pain in the body.
The nerves connected to the heart also join with nerves in the head and neck, and this may cause misinterpreted signals.
When should you worry? Upper back pain that is unrelated to exertion and accompanies other subtle symptoms such as unusual fatigue, jaw pain, and nausea should ring the alarm bell. You should pay close attention to these symptoms if you have heart attack risk factors such as:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Poor diet
- Lack of exercising
Keep in mind that even people with no apparent risk factors can have a heart attack.
Being proactive by visiting a cardiovascular physician is the best first step in prioritizing your heart health. A comprehensive evaluation can provide insight into how well your heart functions and any risk factors you may have, so you can take action.
The team at Metropolitan Cardiovascular Consultants is here to help you keep your heart and circulatory system healthy and strong. Call our office to schedule a visit for a thorough heart-health evaluation with Dr. Djamson.
We have three offices in Beltsville, Bowie, and Columbia, Maryland. You can also send a message to Dr. Djamson and his team via our website.