By Dr. Parker Hays, emergency services physician
Most people are aware that chest pain can be a symptom of a heart attack. But a variety of other problems can be the original or primary symptoms for these patients. Occasionally, a heart attack may not cause any symptoms at all. Patients with diabetes and women are thought more likely to have unusual or atypical symptoms with a heart attack.
Regardless, a heart attack is a serious emergency that requires rapid action. A delay in care could cause further heart injury or death. Do not ignore minor symptoms, especially in patients at risk for heart artery blockages (coronary artery disease).
Sometimes sudden and other times gradual in onset, chest pain, pressure, or just discomfort may occur at rest or with exertion. Symptoms may vary based on age, gender, and other medical conditions.
Symptoms commonly seen may include:
- Chest symptoms like pressure, a weight on the chest, squeezing, or aching. Problems may last a few minutes or longer;
- Pain elsewhere like your jaw, neck, shoulder, upper back without an obvious cause;
- Trouble breathing or unexplained shortness of breath;
- Other symptoms like sweating, nausea or vomiting, feeling lightheaded, indigestion, or significantly fatigued.
While chest pain or discomfort are still the most common heart attack symptoms for women and men, women are more likely to experience other unusual or diminished symptoms. These might be unexplained fatigue, shortness of breath, or other locations of pain.
If you are concerned that you or someone else may be experiencing chest discomfort or heart attack symptoms, seek care immediately and call 911. In heart attack victims, ambulance personnel can begin some important treatments in the field (aspirin, nitroglycerine, monitoring) before the patient even gets to the hospital. They are also trained to provide emergency interventions if the heart stops or beats irregularly.
Rutherford Regional Health System (RRHS) is becoming a certified chest pain center and can help you navigate emergencies like this. RRHS can be reached by calling 828-286-5000. Learn more about RRHS at www.MyRutherfordRegional.com .