How to know when someone is having a heart attack

Would you recognize the signs of a heart attack as it was happening? What if you’re the person actually experiencing the heart attack? You may be surprised to learn that the symptoms can be subtle.

The signs of a heart attack often sneak up on people and may even go ignored — until things get much more serious. In this article, CPR Plus founder and former EMT, Stacy Graff Baehmann, talks about heart attack symptoms that aren’t so obvious or well-known. 

Many patients don’t realize they’re having a heart attack when it happens

Working in the EMS industry for 30 years, I’ve met hundreds of heart attack victims. And almost every one was in denial about what was happening in the moment.

But why? Wouldn’t you know if your heart was suddenly malfunctioning? Wouldn’t that experience stop you in your tracks and make you panic? Not necessarily.

For starters, TV and movies have given us a visual idea of what having a heart attack should look like. Clutch your chest, fall to the ground, and maybe groan out a plea for help. But heart attacks rarely happen that way.

In fact, many of my patients recalled “just feeling bad” or “flu-like” when their heart attack was happening. And oftentimes, they didn’t want to bother anyone with the problem because they thought it would go away on its own.

Recognize the symptoms

Most of us have heard of the classic heart attack symptoms:

  • chest discomfort and/or pressure
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea
  • light-headedness
  • breaking out in a cold sweat
  • sudden pain down the left arm

However, there’s another kind of pain that hasn’t gotten as much attention. This pain can radiate into your left or right arm, into your back, your shoulder blades, and even your jaw.

It’s also important to note that women experience heart attack symptoms a little differently from men. Generally, women will suffer from:

  • shortness of breath
  • pressure and/or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen
  • upper back pressure
  • lightheadedness or fainting
  • extreme fatigue
  • dizziness

As a rule for everyone, pay close attention if these symptoms arise and last for several minutes, or if they go away and come back over and over. Even if you’re unsure whether it’s a heart attack, get checked out. Minutes matter to a heart — and to a life!

Want to be even better prepared?

If your family, staff, or other group would like to be ready in the case of a heart attack, check out our CPR and AED training courses. We also sell AEDs for commercial and private use. Contact us today with any questions and to learn more.