Heart attacks are one of the number one killers of both women and men in the Western world. As such people are rightly scared of heart attacks and reports of a heart attack are very commonly made to the emergency services. While it is highly important to report any case where you worry you might be experiencing a heart attack (it is better than to waste their time and be wrong than it is to not waste their time and be wrong) but it can still be an embarrassing experience that also might prevent the emergency services from taking their time to look after other patients.
Thus it is very helpful to know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack so that you can be more confident in your self diagnoses and rule out other potential causes before you call out the ambulance. At the same time it can help you to identify when a heart attack is occurring rather than shrugging it off and then paying for your mistake.
The first thing that surprises many people about a heart attack is that it does not actually create a sharp pain and that it is not located where the heart is in the left of the chest. Rather the sensation is much more like a dull pain that feels like someone is pressing on the centre of your chest. The reason for this is that the nerve that is connected to your heart is in the centre of your chest and it is the nerve that causes the pain. Additionally the heart itself is not actually located to the left but rather is simply ‘lop-sided’ so that the larger, heavier side the left. A sharp shooting pain then is far removed from a heart attack and is more likely a muscle spasm or trapped nerve.
If you experience a dull ache in the centre of your chest however then this is a far more serious concern. This will then likely also be accompanied by several other symptoms such as numbness in arm, neck and jaw areas. In particular numbness in the left arm is considered one of the most serious symptoms of a heart attack, particularly if it is in the left side.
Someone suffering from a heart attack is also likely to experience shortness of breath, general tiredness and probably panic. They might also perspire an extra amount and show other symptoms of their whole body being put under stress.
This is one way to differentiate between a heart attack and simple indigestion. While indigestion will also cause pain to the centre of the chest (as can heartburn), it is unlikely to spread to other areas of the body or cause such a physical reaction such as numbness in the arm. At the same time with indigestion you might also experience burping, acid reflux and wind. It is also likely to occur shortly after you have been eating whereas a heart attack is more likely to occur after physical exertion.
However in other cases none of these symptoms will occur during a heart attack, and there are many cases where individuals actually suffer heart attacks without ever being aware that they have. This is known as a ‘silent’ heart attack and can occur without any symptoms. This makes it impossible to tell with 100% accuracy whether you might be experiencing a heart attack and is partly what makes them so dangerous.
As such it is important to seek medical attention as soon as you have any suspicion that you may be suffering a heart attack. However what these symptoms can help you to be more certain of your condition and using the advice above you can eliminate simple shooting pains and to an extent indigestion. If you are under any doubt though, you should always call the emergency service immediately to receive medical attention. If you experience: numbness in arm and jaw, pain in chest and shortness of breath meanwhile then it might be time to sound the alarm bells.