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I'm a Doctor and Here's When to Worry it's a Heart Attack

Read it so you can stop trouble before it starts.

In my long practice as an Emergency Physician, I have seen way too many patients with heart attacks. This is not surprising considering that heart attacks are one of the leading causes of death throughout the world. In the United States close to 1 million people die from a heart attack every year.

Although you need to have an EKG and laboratory tests to diagnose a heart attack, there are symptoms you should be aware of that are concerning and warrant a trip to the ER. Please know that not everyone experiences a heart attack the same way and if you are concerned that you are having a heart attack please seek immediate medical treatment. Read on to hear some of the most common signs—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these 19 Ways You're Ruining Your Body, Say Health Experts.


Pressure Like Chest Pain

Man having a heart attack

Although the pain of a heart attack can be different for each person, typically the chest pain associated with a heart attack is not sharp, or stabbing, but rather a feeling of pressure and heaviness. Many patients will actually describe this feeling as if they have an elephant sitting on their chest.


Shortness of Breath

Curly woman feeling bad and suffering from strong cough while having flu

Heart attacks can cause a decrease in the heart's ability to pump blood throughout the body. With the pump not working, fluid can build up into tissues such as the lungs. The fluid in the lungs will make it difficult for the lungs to work which can cause shortness of breath.



Elderly caucasian sweating and fainting.

If you are sweating concurrently with chest pain, this increases the likelihood that you are having a heart attack. Usually described as a "cold sweat,", this kind of perspiration will leave you and your clothes soaked even in a cool room.

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Middle aged woman suffering from abdominal pain while sitting on bed at home

Vomiting associated with chest pain or shortness of breath is concerning.  Thought to be due to rapidly progressing damage to the heart muscle, vomiting with chest pain should be a symptom that brings you to the Emergency Department.



Mature man with bad headache at home

Lightheadedness or a feeling that your are going to pass out is normally caused by blood not getting to the brain. From problems with the rhythm of the heart, to problems with pumping blood to the brain, it is very common for patients having heart attacks to feel lightheaded.  

RELATED: Ways You're Ruining Your Heart, Say Doctors



Adult male with heart attack or heart burn

Although pain is usually on one side or the other, it is not uncommon for the pain to present in the middle of the chest similar to heartburn. Even if the pain is improved with treatment for indigestion, such as antacids, a heart attack has not been ruled out.


Arm Pain

Mature Man Clutching Arm As Warning Of Heart Attack

Chest pain that radiates to the left arm has always been thought of as a classic symptom of a heart attack. It is now known that although the pain can be in the left arm, pain in either arm could be a symptom of a heart attack. Patients usually describe the pain to be a heaviness or aching.

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Neck Veins Bulging

woman touching neck with her hands.

The heart is a pump that is meant to push blood around the body. If the heart is damaged, as it is when you have a heart attack, the pump stops working. This can cause the blood to back up into the veins that lead to the heart, leading to bulging neck veins. If you experience this or any of the symptoms here, contact a medical professional immediately. And to get through life at your healthiest, Don't Take This Supplement, Which Can Raise Your Cancer Risk.

Kenneth Perry, MD FACEP
Dr. Perry is an active practicing physician and Medical Director of an Emergency Department in Charleston, South Carolina. Read more about Kenneth