11 signs of heart attack - and the symptoms that can appear months before

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11 signs of heart attack - and the symptoms that can appear months before
11 signs of heart attack - and the symptoms that can appear months before

Several early warning signs could possibly save you from getting a heart attack if they are spotted early.

The condition, which can be life-threatening, is when the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot. A lack of blood to the heart may seriously damage the heart muscle and needs to be treated as quickly as possible.

One person is admitted to a UK hospital every five minutes due to a heart attack, according to data from the British Heart Foundation.

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of heart attacks. Between April 2019 and March 2020, over 86,500 people had a heart attack (and were admitted to hospital) across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

11 signs of heart attack - and the symptoms that can appear months before eideziqkeiqhhinvThere are 11 early warning signs of a heart attack which people should look out for

Symptoms vary from person to person, but there are no symptoms that women experience more or less often than men. People should look out for 11 early warning signs of a heart attack that can appear months in advance. This means tests can be carried out and preventative action can be taken, says the British Heart Foundation.

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Leg pain

If you get a gripping, cramping sensation in your calves when you are walking, it might be worth seeing your doctor, says David Newby, Professor of Cardiology at the BHF Centre of Research Excellence, as it can be a marker of PAD (peripheral arterial disease). It’s most common in smokers and people who have diabetes.

11 signs of heart attack - and the symptoms that can appear months beforeSymptoms vary from each person but there are no symptoms that women experience more or less often than men

Arm pain

Arm pain can be a sign of a heart attack. Professor Newby said: “If your pain is going down the arm, especially the left arm, or into the neck that makes it more likely to be heart-related than indigestion. If it doesn’t go away, or if you know you have heart disease and have used your GTN (glyceryl trinitrate) spray two or three times to no discernible effect, you should be seeking emergency medical advice.” Call 999 for an ambulance.

Swollen ankles

Professor Newby says: “This shouldn’t be ignored, especially if the ankles get really big, as it can be a marker of heart failure, but it is also very common and has lots of other causes. It could just as easily be from tablets you are taking – for example, blood pressure medication can lead to swollen ankles.” If you’re getting swollen ankles, it’s worth making an appointment with your GP.

Stomach pain or indigestion

An indigestion-type pain or a burning sensation in your chest or stomach can be a sign of a heart attack or related heart problem. Professor David Newby said: “Because the heart, the gullet [the passage between your mouth and stomach] and the stomach are all lying right next to each other, the challenge, for both members of the public and doctors, is that a burning or indigestion-type pain and heart pain can be difficult to disentangle."

Feeling sick

The British Heart Foundation says that clearly not every bout of nausea equals a heart attack – but if you’re getting chest pain as well, alarm bells should ring. Professor Newby said: “If you experience intense chest pain even when you are just sitting around doing nothing and you are also feeling sick, that is the time to call for an ambulance.” If you’re getting some discomfort, but not intense pain, as well as feeling sick, call NHS 111 for advice.

Night sweats

Working up a sweat when you’ve been to the gym or because it’s a really hot day, is nothing to worry about. But feeling hot and clammy along with chest pains is a sign that you should call an ambulance.

Jaw or back pain

Professor Newby said: “With heart attacks, it can even happen that the pain is felt in the jaw, or the back. Again, if it doesn’t go away, call 999 and ask for an ambulance.” There is some evidence that women’s symptoms are more likely to vary from ‘classic’ chest pain, and that women are less likely to seek medical attention and treatment.

Choking sensation

Professor Newby says: “The word ‘angina’ actually means ‘choking’, and sometimes the tightness or pain can be up in the throat. People tend to describe a ‘restricting’ or ‘choking’ sensation.” If the feeling continues, and you haven’t previously been diagnosed with heart problem, you should call NHS 111 – but if you have some of the other signs listed here as well, it might be safer to call an ambulance.

Extreme fatigue

Feeling tired all the time can be a symptom of heart failure, as well as of other conditions. However if you’re tired and you’ve been working long hours or staying up late, it’s probably not your heart – but if you start experiencing extreme tiredness and your lifestyle hasn’t changed, it’s a good idea to chat to your GP.

Irregular heartbeat

Professor Newby says: “This is a hot topic at the moment, there’s a lot of focus on diagnosing irregular heartbeats. I did an audit of the heart monitors we give out to people for investigation and from about 700 people, we found only about 20 that had atrial fibrillation [which can increase your risk of stroke]. The vast majority of people just had extra ectopic beats, which are usually harmless.

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“I would suggest that a jumped heartbeat is usually benign and nothing to get too concerned by. Being aware of your own heartbeat is really quite common and in itself nothing to get anxious about. If your heart is going very fast and jumping around erratically then that’s when you should see your GP. If you feel like this and then you experience blackouts, call an ambulance.”

Chest pain

This is the classic sign of a heart attack, yet many people don’t realise this could be a medical emergency. Professor Newby says: “If you have chest pain and you feel extremely unwell, you should dial 999 and get an ambulance as soon as possible. If it’s a heart attack, it’s usually described as a heaviness, tightness or pressure in the chest; people will often describe it as ‘an elephant sat on my chest’ or ‘it felt like a tight band around my chest,’ that sort of constricting feeling.

“If chest pains occur when you are exerting yourself, but go away when you stop, that would suggest it’s more likely to be angina. That would still mean you should go and see a doctor, but you don’t have to call 999.” Chest pains accompanied by feeling extremely unwell, mean it is probably the right time to call 999 and request an ambulance.

Maryam Qaiser

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