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How to Recognize the Signs of a Heart Attack?

Updated on May 21st, 2024

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Written and medically reviewed by Dorcas Morak, Pharm.D

Heart attacks are a major global health issue, and knowing the symptoms can save lives. Chest pain is a well-known sign, but there are other, subtler symptoms to watch out for. Recognizing these signs early can lead to quick action and potentially prevent severe complications. Let’s discuss the signs of a heart attack and how to tell them apart from everyday discomforts.

What is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack occurs when a blocked artery prevents blood and oxygen from reaching the heart. Fatty, cholesterol-rich deposits accumulate over time, creating plaques in the heart's arteries. If a plaque ruptures, it can form a blood clot that blocks the arteries, triggering a heart attack. Heart attacks can also result from underlying heart disease.

What are the Risk Factors for a Heart Attack?

Understanding and addressing key risk factors for heart attack is essential for prevention. These include high blood pressure, elevated LDL cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, obesity, and lack of physical activity.

What are the Signs of a Heart Attack?

If you think you're having a heart attack, getting help fast is key. Watch for these symptoms so you can get treatment right away:

  • Chest Pain: Pressure, squeezing, or discomfort in the chest.
  • Arm Pain: Pain in the jaw, shoulder, or arm, usually on the left side.
  • Stomach Issues: Indigestion, heartburn, or nausea, wildly unrelated to food.
  • Lightheadedness: Feeling dizzy, faint, or suddenly losing consciousness.
  • Sweating: Cold sweats or sudden heavy sweating without physical exertion.
  • Shortness of Breath: Trouble breathing or symptoms resembling asthma.
  • Fatigue: Unexpected and severe tiredness, often along with other signs.

It’s important to recognize that these symptoms can vary from person to person and might not always be severe. Some individuals, especially women, may experience subtler symptoms such as mild discomfort in the chest and arms, unexplained fatigue, or nausea.

What are Immediate Action Responses to Heart Attack?

If you or someone else experiences any of these symptoms suddenly prompt treatment can be life-saving:

  1. Call 911: It's crucial to seek immediate medical attention.
  2. Chew an Aspirin: Follow the 911 operator’s instructions, which may include chewing an aspirin to help thin the blood.
  3. Rest: Stay calm and avoid physical exertion while waiting for medical assistance.

What Are Common Heart Medications?

Your cardiologist has many heart medication options. Here are examples of common medications and how they work:

  • Antiplatelet Agents: Prevent platelets from forming clots. E.g. Aspirin
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors: Dilate blood vessels for effortless blood flow and lower blood pressure. E.g. Captopril (Capoten) and Lisinopril (Zestril)
  • Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers (ARBs): Stop blood pressure from increasing. E.g. as Candesartan (Atacand) and Losartan (Cozaar)
  • Angiotensin Receptor Neprilysin Inhibitors (ARNIs): Improve artery opening and blood flow while reducing sodium and fluid buildup. As of now, sacubitril/valsartan (Entresto) is the only ARNIs available in the US.
  • Beta Blockers: Slow heart rate and strengthen heartbeats. E.g. Atenolol (Tenormin) and Metoprolol (Lopressor).
  • Calcium Channel Blockers: Block calcium from heart and vessel cells, lowering blood pressure. E.g. Amlodipine (Norvasc) and Nifedipine (Procardia).
  • Cholesterol Medications: Reduce high cholesterol. E.g. Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
  • Digitalis: Boost heart contractions. E.g. Digoxin (Lanoxin)
  • Diuretics: Flush out excess fluid. E.g. Aldactone (spironolactone) and bumetanide (Bumex)

What are Ways to Prevent a Heart Attack?

To reduce the risk of heart attacks, consider these key lifestyle adjustments:

  • Maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Follow a balanced diet and exercise regularly.
  • Avoid smoking and minimize alcohol consumption.
  • Manage stress effectively and ensure you get enough sleep.

Now that you know the signs of a heart attack and how to manage it, use Rxless to save on your heart medication prescriptions at CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, and other partner pharmacies. Join the RxLess Assurance Plan by downloading our free app and spend less time worried about budgeting for prescriptions and know what you’ll pay at the counter. Every time.

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